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A Swede in Germany

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Follow-up: The German 2017 election

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Six or seven weeks ago, I wrote “We are now two weeks past the last German parliament election, and there is still no certainty about who will rule with whom”.

This is now more true than it was back then, because the coalition talks between CDU/CSU, FDP, and the Greens have failed. There is great insecurity, and even the option of a new election is on the table.

To some degree, this is bad; to some, it gives me great hope, because of the motivation given by FDP leader Christian Lindner for why he terminated the talks. What I wrote in a footnote about the preceding CDU/CSU and SPD coalition was “[…]it had two parties in bed with each other that simply do not belong together. This type of coalition amounts to a breach of the voters trust and is by its nature not very democratic.”—and Lindner, highly unusually for a politician, appears to have an at least similar take on the ethics of coalition building.

To give some quotes from his speech (translations somewhat approximate due to idiom):

Nach Wochen liegt aber heute unverändert ein Papier mit zahllosen Widersprüchen, offenen Fragen und Zielkonflikten vor. Und dort, wo es Übereinkünfte gibt, sind diese Übereinkünfte erkauft mit viel Geld der Bürger oder mit Formelkompromissen.

(

After weeks we still have a document* with countless contradictions, open issues, and conflicting targets. And where there is consent, the consent is bought with large amounts of tax payers’** money or [formulaic compromise]***.

*Referring to the preliminary agreement, common statement, whatnot, which would have been the result of the negotiations and the base for the coalition.

**More literally, “citizen”.

**I am not aware of an English equivalent, and to boot this is one of the rare occasions where I learned a new German word. Wikipedia gives an explanation amounting to “we pretend to have reached a compromise, while actually leaving the issue open for the time being”.

)

Es hat sich gezeigt, dass die vier Gesprächspartner keine gemeinsame Vorstellung von der Modernisierung unseres Landes und vor allen Dingen keine gemeinsame Vertrauensbasis entwickeln konnten. Eine Vertrauensbasis und eine gemeinsam geteilte Idee, sie wären aber die Voraussetzung für stabiles Regieren.

(

It turned out that the four parties [to the negotiations] could not develop a common understanding for the modernization of our country and, above all, a mutual trust base. However, a trust base and a common understanding* would be necessary for a stable government.

*“Idee” is normally translated with the cognate “idea”; however, the use here appears to be more abstract and “understanding” matches the previous formulation better.

)

Unser Einsatz für die Freiheit des Einzelnen in einer dynamischen Gesellschaft, die auf sich vertraut, die war nicht hinreichend repräsentiert in diesem Papier.

(Our efforts for the freedom of the individual in a dynamic society, which trusts [has confidence in?] it self, were not sufficiently represented in this document.)

Wir sind für die Trendwenden gewählt worden, aber sie waren nicht erreichbar, [list of sub-topics]

(

We were elected for course* changes, but these were not reachable, [list of sub-topics]

*Literal meaning closer to the English cognate “trend”.

)

Den Geist des Sondierungspapiers können und wollen wir nicht verantworten, viele der diskutierten Maßnahmen halten wir sogar für schädlich. Wir wären gezwungen, unsere Grundsätze aufzugeben und all das wofür wir Jahre gearbeitet haben. Wir werden unsere Wählerinnen und Wähler nicht im Stich lassen, indem wir eine Politik mittragen, von der wir im Kern nicht überzeugt sind. Es ist besser, nicht zu regieren, als falsch zu regieren.

(

The soul of the document we cannot and will not be responsible for [stand by?], many of the discussed measure we even consider harmful. We would be forced to relinquish our principles and all that for which we have worked for years. We will not abandon our voters, by signing off on a policy*, of which we are not truly** convinced. It is better not to rule, than to rule erroneously***.

*“Set of policies”, “political direction”, or something similar, might catch the intention better.

**Literally, “in the core”, which could conceivably and alternatively refer to the core of the policy, or possibly even FDP.

***“Falsely” or “wrongly” might be better translations when understood correctly; however, these words could introduce unintended connotations, e.g. two-facedness or moral wrongness. These would make sense it context, but do not match the normal intent of the German formulation.

)

Respekt, Herr Lindner! I would like to see a lot more of this attitude among modern politicians.

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Written by michaeleriksson

November 21, 2017 at 1:45 am

The German 2017 election

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We are now two weeks past the last German parliament election, and there is still no certainty about who will rule with whom*—however, there is a fair chance that we will be rid of the conservative CDU/CSU** and social-democrat SPD coalition***. The most likely resolution appears to be a CDU/CSU, FDP (liberal, libertarian), and “the green party” coalition. This would be a clear improvement, but the presence of the Greens would make the situation sub-optimal: The environment is important, but large parts of this party is simply highly irrational—astrologists, not astronomers. To boot, large parts of their agenda is as incompatible with the potential partners as SPD’s was. On the plus side, the Greens did not even break 9 % and would be a decidedly junior partner, and they share my and FDP’s distaste for e.g. privacy violations, Bundestrojaner, and the like: Together they and FDP might restrain CDU/CSU in this regard.

*Note that Germany has a multi-party system with a fairly proportional representation by votes (unlike e.g. a first-past-the-post system). After the latest election, there are a total of six parties that made the 5 % cut-off.

**A quirk of German politics is that these parties are not nationally present, with CSU appearing only in Bavaria and CDU everywhere but Bavaria. For the purposes of national politics, they are often informally treated as one entity.

***This coalition being unfortunate in two regards. Firstly, objectively and neutrally, it had two parties in bed with each other that simply do not belong together. This type of coalition amounts to a breach of the voters trust and is by its nature not very democratic. As I noted after the previous election, if such coalitions are tolerated, we might just as well do away with the unnecessary formality of voting. Secondly, subjectively and personally, I dislike the politics of SPD (more than e.g. those of CDU).

It can be interesting to look back at the last few elections, seeing that they have seen some notable developments:

2009: Leading up to the election, another CDU/CSU and SPD coalition was in charge. SPD took a severe hit, CDU/CSU a minor hit, and the smaller parties benefited correspondingly. While CDU/CSU and SPD had been roughly on par last time around, CDU/CSU was now considerably larger and formed a (much more natural) coalition with FDP, which reached a record 14.6 % of the vote.

2013: CDU/CSU gained considerably and looked set for a continued coalition with FDP—except that FDP took a severe hit… So severe, in fact, that it narrowly missed the 5 % cut-off and was left out of parliament. Roughly 10 % or two thirds of the vote gone, from record high to record low, in four years. This was particularly unfortunate*, since CDU/CSU and FDP would have remained in majority, had the cut-off been just a sliver lower.

*However, at the time, I reacted with misplaced Schadenfreude: FDP had been fishing for tactical votes from CDU/CSU supporters, something I strongly disapprove of. Yes, it served them right; however, a very unfortunate political situation arose (cf. above).

2017: This time both CDU/CSU and SPD took severe hits (the former more so in absolute terms, but proportionally the loss was roughly a fifth each), but the remaining two parties (the Greens and leftist extremist/populist Die Linke) only saw marginal gains*. The reason was a resurgence of FDP, which not only made the cut-off but was back above 10 % (historically a good level)—and the massive rise of AfD**, gaining 8 % (for a total of 12.6 %) and its first entry.

*In terms of votes. In terms of seats, they obviously lost ground.

**I am loath to categorize AfD for several reasons, including that it is a very young party with an undeveloped own identity and that it can be hard to tell the difference between its own actual position and the often distorted portrait painted by the other parties and media. It does, however, indisputably have aspects of nationalism, migration skepticism, and a general dissatisfaction with the political establishment. Add in a degree of populism and it might be fair to say that it fills a similar niche as Trump in the U.S. (On these three points, I strongly agree with the last, disagree with the first, and agree or disagree with the second, depending on exactly what we discuss. Cf. a footnote below. In most other areas, I am likely in disagreement; a pro-equality and anti-feminist stance being an obvious exception.)

Interestingly, despite the major changes of 2013, the results of 2017 match those of 2009 very well, apart from the addition of AfD. (And, indeed, without AfD, the Greens would not be needed for CDU/CSU and FDP to re-form their coalition.) Scale off roughly 1/8th of the 2009 results and that is approximately the 2017 result. CDU/CSU has a little more; FDP a little less; the others match very well—as does the sum of the CDU/CSU and FDP percentages.

A twist here is that AfD allegedly has gained disproportionally many voters from CDU/CSU, while CDU/CSU remains the least affected compared to 2009. (This paradoxical situation is likely explained by other voter movements to the benefit of CDU/CSU, especially, I suspect, from FDP.)

Looking at the long term developments, 2009 saw an all-time low for SPD and a lowest-since-1949 for CDU/CSU—something repeated exactly in 2017. The historical constellation of two major parties with several minor parties is, just like in Sweden, disappearing. To some degree, cf. above, this could be explained by the ruling parties being punished: They actually have to do something, often something unpopular, and with a risk of screwing up; the other parties can just sit back, complain, and promise that “with us, everything would have been/will be better”. However, other explanations include voter estrangement and dissatisfaction with the attitudes and policies of the older parties, as well as more success for parties that focus strongly on specific areas where individual voters have similar priorities (the Greens, AfD, and Die Linke fall strongly into this category). SPD, specifically, is likely hurt by Die Linke* “stealing” more and more voters with opinions on the far Left or that are vulnerable to Leftist populism, especially in the area of the old GDR, where SPD often finds it self the smaller of the two…

*This starting with the entry of PDS (the reincarnated SED) in the 1990s and increased by the defection of a part of SPD to PDS to form Die Linke at some point before the 2009 election.

As for my personal take, I am not a fan of any political party (cf. earlier writings), but I would tend to consider a CDU/CSU and FDP coalition the best alternative. While none of them match me ideologically, FDP is likely the closest to a match, with CDU/CSU second. The Greens and Die Linke have no place in any government, hardly to be considered politically sane. SPD is politically sane, but remains a Leftist party (admittedly less so than in the past), with many ideas that I cannot get on board with, at least some of which are likely to be detrimental to Germany’s long-term prospects. AfD as a first time entry, is unlikely to be a good choice for a coalition partner (see also above and below).

The entry of AfD is tricky to judge, especially with the problems of understanding its ideology correctly. However, it has at least two benefits as a signal to the older parties: Firstly, that they cannot ignore, trivialize, or misrepresent migration* issues like they have done in the past. Secondly, that they have to step up their game in looking to the people, not themselves, in general. Until more is known, I am cautiously positive. (I would certainly see the continued presence of Die Linke as a greater reason to be concerned.)

*Migration is another tricky issue, including what levels and what type of migration should be allowed, including applying different perspectives. For instance, from an ideological perspective, I would favor free migration, seeing borders, citizenships, passports, more as an artificial obstacles than anything else; however, from a pragmatical perspective, I would want to consider properly the effects of such migration—including the negative ones that the politicians of the older parties often want to ignore. Similarly, we must consider the possibility of different resolutions for immigrants from different countries, with different backgrounds (notably in terms of education), or with different attitudes. Here is the important point: Irrespective of whether we are for or against migration, migration policy is something that must be discussable and discussed in a free manner, just like e.g. tax levels. The too common attitude of “either you agree with me or you are a racist/xenophobe/Nazi/whatnot” is inexcusable, doing no-one a favour.

(I draw on the German Wikipedia pages for the respective elections for data: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestagswahl_2017, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestagswahl_2013, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestagswahl_2009.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 8, 2017 at 8:40 pm

How to lose an election in a lost democracy

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In recent times, I have made several posts dealing with the themes like democracy and the U.S. presidential election—including How to win an election in a lost democracy, on how a truly disastrous candidate (like Hillary Clinton) could conceivably and hypothetically manage to win through placing a sufficiently bad candidate (like Trump) in the opposing camp.

While this was not a serious suggestion (at least not for the current election), I actually and honestly thought that the flaws of Trump would bring Hillary a victory—for the last week or two before the election, a sure-fire one, with not enough time left for a turn-around. This to the point that I actually failed to write the please-consider-what-you-are-doing post I had planned for last week, seeing it as a waste of time.

Election day came the miracle and one of the greatest reliefs I have ever experience—a major bullet was dodged.

Despite the title of this post, I will not try to analyze how this happened in-depth (I have not done the necessary leg-work). But: Trump likely managed to leverage his advantages among the uneducated/working-class/whatnot*, while likely sufficiently many in the rest of the population realized that Hillary was the greater evil, possibly aided by the email scandals that brought her long history of bad behavior to mind—as well as the many investigations that have all been prematurely interrupted. Trump was lucky (or campaigned well…) in that his distribution of votes gave him a majority of electors through winning most of the swing states, while having slightly fewer votes than Hillary overall. Voter turnout, how many of whose supporters actually voted, might have had a significant effect (often the case with upsets).

*Looking at statistics at e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2016 it is clear that the candidates have very different impacts on different demographics, including using criteria like education. That I side with the candidate of the “uneducated” while most of the “educated” go against my recommendations is annoying, but I can understand how someone like Trumps rubs the educated the wrong way—I too see him merely as the lesser of two evils and would like have preferred e.g. Obama. At the same time, I re-iterate my observation that education is not automatically a sign of intelligence or good judgment: Many of the educated who voted for Hillary will have done so because she too is educated, because she has a more sophisticated image, because the educated in the U.S. are “supposed” to vote Democrat, or similar. With the Republicans and the Democrats in general, there is often the problem that those with some intelligence are bright enough to see the right-most wing of the Republicans, the Fundamentalist Christians, and so on, as problematic; however, not bright enough to see that the left-most Democrats, the politically correct, the gender-feminists, …, are just as uninformed, irrational, dangerous, and otherwise problematic.

Looking back at the posts I did write, I want to repeat that this is not an ideal situation: Disaster was averted, but chances are that Trump, as the lesser of two evils, will prove to be a genuinely bad President—it is just that the alternative would with a high degree of probability have been even worse.

On the down-side, looking at the problems with democracy and its current failure, the victory of Trump could actually be the stronger side of that failure, with his extremely populist take. On the other hand, it is a positive sign that someone in no way established as a politician, and certainly not a professional politician, could win.

As for those who wanted Hillary Clinton because she was a woman, because it would be high-time to have a female President, or similar (all idiotic reasons to elect someone), they should take comfort in it being far better to wait a while longer and then get a woman who is actually worthy of the job. Someone like Hillary could, in a worst-case-scenario, have set back the chances for other women by decades. As a Swede I can point to a number of absolutely disastrous women, far worse than Hillary, who have been brought to the fore despite their lack of competence and other suitability to provide the female candidates the feminists cry for—and who have done exactly such damage. The single best example is likely Mona Sahlin, who came very close to becoming the Swedish Premier, but who also was deeply, deeply stupid and has repeatedly been caught in various, if minor, corruption scandals. In contrast, those women who have made it to the top without a significant leg up or with being a woman as a major selling point, like Thatcher and Merkel*, have done women a favour through actually proving that there are women who can do the job as well as the typical male Prime Minister resp. Chancellor.

*Notwithstanding that my opinion of Merkel has dropped considerably over the last few years.

As a side-bar, it can be interesting to briefly compare Bill and Hillary, especially because part of my aversion to Hillary is Bill’s Presidency and a wish to keep the Clintons in general (but Hillary in particular) out of the White House: Bill was a lesser evil than Hillary for at least two reasons (if we otherwise consider them fungible, which is likely unfair to Bill) in that firstly he had considerable relevant practical experience from his time as Governor, while Hillary had a gifted Senatorship and otherwise was the Governor’s/President’s wife; secondly his Presidency interrupted a long period of Republican dominance*, while Hillary’s would have extended a Democrat reign.

*One of my main observations concerning democracy, and power in general, is that it is a bad thing for a specific individual, party, organization, … to have great power for too long. Reasons include a growing risk of corruption, people confusing who they are as persons with their official roles, lack of new ideas, and too much resistance to change. Correspondingly, it is good when another party wins an election every know and then, even when otherwise the worse choice. For Bill, the last Democrat was twelve years back and the Democrats had had four of the last twenty-four years. For Hillary, she would have extended a Democrat streak to at least twelve years and twenty out of the last twenty-eight.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 10, 2016 at 11:27 pm

How to win an election in a lost democracy

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Looking at the U.S. Presidential election system, there is an interesting flaw in the two phases* involved: A candidate can win the first phase by having an ever so small majority, possibly even plurality, of his own party support him—and be without chance in the second phase through this support being too small.

*Preliminaries and main election. A case for more phases including preparations, declarations, nominations, and (of course) the election by the electoral college could be made, but I stick to the popular vote here.

In this setup, what is the best way to win an election? Make sure that a. you have a strong internal support, b. your opponent antagonizes almost half of his own party (or otherwise has a weak internal support and a strong risk of defectors). By planting, covertly supporting, whatnot, a poor candidate within the opposing party, the election result can be manipulated in a massive manner. The poor candidate does not even have to be “in on it”. In fact, I would be unsurprised if most variations of such (at least approximately) “divide and conquer” tactics work better when only the outside manipulators know the truth.

Notably, in the U.S. political landscape, with the two main parties both covering a very wide range of opinions and interests (the Republicans likely more so), this is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Take a candidate like Donald Trump*, who by playing the populist element and fringes of one party can gather a majority of his own party, while being highly unpopular in other parts of the party. Chances are that he will be able to mobilize a smaller share of the party members in the main election than a more main-stream/moderate/whatnot candidate—and he will see far more “defectors” from his own party than the opponent’s come election day**. In fact, a number of Republicans have actually publicly declared Hillary the lesser evil (something I very strongly disagree with, however problematic Trump may be). Similarly, with some reservations for how well the populism works, he is likely to miss out on most of the party-less vote.

*This post is very definitely inspired by the current situation. However, and I stress this strongly, I am not saying that this has actually already happened—just that it is a very real risk that it eventually will happen, the more likely after the parties have reviewed the events of the current election. However, similar stratagems have definitely been tried in other contexts in the past, notably during military conquests.

**Normally, almost every Republican voter will see virtually any Republican candidate as better than his Democrat counter-part (and vice versa), because even if flawed in character and sub-optimal in opinion, he will still be the lesser evil through belonging to the right party and having at least roughly the right opinions. The idea is to find a candidate who will disturb this principle with as many voters as possibly (while still managing to gain the party majority).

Say that election day comes, that the Republicans and Democrats are equally strong in general support, but that 80 % of the Democrats vote loyally while 20 % remain at home—and that only 70 % of the Republicans are loyal, 20 % remain at home, and 10 % actually defect. Well, that splits the vote 90–70, giving the Democrats an easy victory*, where we “should” have had a hard fight to the last hour of the election.

*Of course, with the all-or-nothing voting on the state level, such overall numbers are not necessarily important. However, in the given constellation, this would have kept every blue state in its traditional color, likely turned every swing-state blue, and quite possibly given some red states a do-over. The result is the same—an easy victory.

Now, consider the special case that you are put in charge of getting someone herself* almost unelectable elected. Suddenly, this strategy is not merely advantageous—it might be an outright necessity! For a disaster** to be elected, the opponent must at least appear to be similarly poor.

Bottom line: If you are Scylla and want ships heading your way, make sure the alternative is Charybdis.

*And, yes, I am most definitely talking about Hillary Clinton. However, I am still not saying that this is what actually has happened.

**In the case of Hillary Clinton, the disaster falls into two parts. Firstly, she is objectively a poor candidate, with a history of corruption, dubious qualifications, weird opinions, … She has even already more-or-less promised a cabinet with a male–female division of 50–50 based on the overall population distribution and ignoring actual suitability and availability of candidates—an idea fully on par with a wall to Mexico. Secondly, she is a candidate with handicaps when it comes to being elected, including being less than universally liked and more controversial among the Democrats than is safe for a candidate to be, being unusually disliked among the Republicans, being less telegenic and charismatic than many others have been (including Bill and Obama), and just (at least to me) appearing less natural.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 9, 2016 at 12:11 am

The German election

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Around the last Swedish election, I wrote no less than four entries ([1], [2], [3], [4]).

Last Sunday, the German elections took place—and I have yet to write a single word.

To remedy this somewhat, the things that strike me as particularly important or interesting:

  1. Conservative CDU/CSU finds it self in paradoxical situation, being widely hailed as the victors, yet being forced to search for a coalition partner among three Leftist parties to continue their government.

    To a Swede, the situation is particularly odd, because in the same setup in Sweden, a Leftist government would have been a near given, seeing that the the Social-Democrat SPD, the Center-Left ecological party “Die Grüne”, and the SED-descendant and extreme Left “Die Linke” together have narrow majority of the seats.

    While Die Linke, with their connections to the East-German communist party, are unlikely to be a welcome partner for the other parties, a Leftist minority government with their support seems the logical conclusion.

    That this is different in Germany relates (I speculate) to a system that requires a majority for the prospective Chancellor during the intra-parliamentary election. Only if a majority fails to manifest it self repeatedly can a minority government be formed—or a second public election called for.

  2. The liberal (in various parts classical, social/pseudo-, and neo-) FDP dropped out of the Bundestag for the first time in some sixty years—after having reached a record high in the previous election and being the junior-partner in the incumbent government.

    The long-term effects of this are yet to be seen, but they could conceivably be far-reaching. Factor in that Die Grüne und Die Linke both took hits in terms of popularity, and Germany might be headed towards a two-party system. On the other, FDP might bounce, seeing that analysts see much of their failure as a consequence of achieving too little as the junior partner—a problem they will not have in the next four years.

  3. New-comer AfD, a euro-critical party riding on the dissatisfaction with the older generations of parties, came close to entry, but ultimately failed. Their progress or regression until the next election is one of the more interesting questions ahead.

    In their wake, other minor parties, notably “the pirate party”, fared poorly and had no chance at entry. FDP can put at least part of the blame for its fiasco in the hands of AfD.

  4. Germany has a 5% lower limit for representation in the Bundestag. Sweden has a 4% limit—and both FDP and AfD would have made it under Swedish rules. Together they account for 9.5% of the votes going to waste. (With several percent more lost on another small parties.)

As an aside, assuming that the Conservatives do prevail: The best man won—and was a woman.

(While I do not think highly of politicians, Angela Merkel is far above their mediocre average in terms of competence. Ideologically, I might have preferred FDP, but that they would not provide the chancellor was a given.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm