Though I’m a political junkie, and though a good three quarters of my family immigrated from Germany, I hadn’t been seriously following the German presidential election until today. Now that I’ve been reading some web pages on it, I think it was actually the most meaningful presidential election they’ve ever had. My reasons for thinking so:
1) It’s an argument against ceremonial presidents in countries with a parliamentary system. Germany’s president is supposed to be a neutral arbiter who performs largely ceremonial functions…more like the Queen in the UK or the Governor-General in Canada. Having a big partisan election for one’s “neutral arbiter” is problematic enough, but in this election, the Germans outdid themselves. The SPD and Greens nominated a popular East German anticommunist activist, Joachim Gauck, and because Angela Merkel is unpopular with her own troops these days, a number of her supporters defected to vote for Gauck, depriving her handpicked candidate Christian Wulff from winning the required majority on the first and second ballots. Finally he did win on the third ballot, but this is being read as a sign of Merkel’s government’s weakness – and this ballot should be all about whether a person will make a good party-neutral President, not whether the other parties can sock it to Merkel’s CDU/CSU-FDP alliance.
2) It’s an indication that communism in Germany may not relegated to the history books as it should be. One main reason Gauck didn’t end up actually beating Wulff is that Die Linke, the post-communist/democratic socialist party would not vote for him. Gauck was the candidate of the left-wing parties (the SPD and the Greens), but apparently it’s more important for some members of Die Linke to defeat someone who used to be the chair of a commission that investigated the East German secret police (the Stasi) than it is to declare the Cold War over and support a candidate widely respected not only by the other left-wing parties, but by the more right-wing ones as well (especially the FDP, which had also previously tried to get him to run on their ticket for President). Because Die Linke wouldn’t support the rest of the left, the right’s candidate won. So maybe Die Linke is not so much post-communist as still-communist. This vote really brought out that ugly side to the party.
3) Germany’s system has “faithless electors”, just like the US electoral college. People who were elected to the “federal convention” to vote for the President pledged to support Wulff obviously bolted on the first two ballots. That’s like electors being pledged to vote for the Democrat or the Republican and deciding to vote for whoever they darn well please, regardless of the results of the actual election. That makes no sense in the US, and it also makes no sense in Germany.
Whew. Okay, got that all off my chest. Now I can go wash the dishes. 😀