With laptops open like shields against the encroaching cameramen, the young men resembled Peter Pan’s Lost Boys more than Captain Hook’s buccaneers when they were introduced Monday as Berlin’s newest legislators: They are the members of the Pirate Party.
Asked if they were just some chaotic troop of troublemakers, Christopher Lauer, newly voted in as a state lawmaker for the district of Pankow, replied with no lack of confidence, “You ought to wait for the first session in the house of representatives.”
By winning 8.9 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election in this city-state, these political pirates surpassed — blew away, really — every expectation for what was supposed to be a fringe, one-issue party promoting Internet freedom. The Pirates so outstripped expectations that all 15 candidates on their list won seats…
These men in their 20s and 30s, who turned up at the imposing former Prussian state parliament building, some wearing hooded sweatshirts, and one a T-shirt of the comic book hero Captain America, were no longer merely madcap campaigners and gadflies. They had become the people’s elected representatives…
“They are absolutely not a joke party,” said Christoph Bieber, a professor of political science at the University of Duisburg-Essen. While there was certainly an element of protest in the unexpectedly large share of the votes the Pirates won, they were filling a real need for voters outside the political mainstream who felt unrepresented. “In the Internet, they have really found an underexploited theme that the other political parties are not dealing with,” Mr. Bieber said.
The state election in Berlin on Sunday was full of surprising results. The pro-business Free Democrats, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partners in the federal Parliament, crashed and burned, again, receiving less than 2 percent of the vote. That is well below the 5 percent needed to remain in the statehouse. The Green Party continued to build on its recent successes and may well become one of the governing parties in Berlin.
While issues like online privacy and data protection may seem incredibly narrow, even irrelevant, to older voters, for young people who often spend half their waking hours online, much of it on social networking sites where they share their most intimate moments, it is anything but a small issue. And the Pirates’ call for complete transparency in politics resonates powerfully with a generation disillusioned by the American case for war in Iraq and galvanized by WikiLeaks’ promise to put an end to secrecy.
The Pirates’ surprisingly strong showing came as further evidence of voter dissatisfaction in Germany with the established parties, and what many see as their inability to look beyond self-interest and focus instead on the needs of their constituents…
The effort made to build a sustainable Germany after World War 2 included a reliance on democracy long ago subverted in the United States. In almost every state, the deck is thoroughly stacked against a minor party getting on the ballot. And the 2-Party private club owns all the people who administer and regulate the process. Still, these folks are an inspiration.
Of course, the number of articles appearing on radio and TV, in mass media newspapers across the USA – relating the tale of this minority miracle – is less than coverage of the average NFL quarterback developing a hangnail on his throwing hand.