Saturday, November 15, 2014

The rise and fall of the German Pirate Party

Parties with a focus on internet issues have become much more prominent recently. Like the wave of socialist parties in the 1910s, and the wave of green parties in the 1980s, internet parties have spread throughout the globe. However, so far most have met with little success. There are a few exceptions; the Icelandic Pirates have representation in the Althingi (Icelandic parliament), the Swedish Pirates won European Parliament seats, and the German Pirate Party has received some seats in state legislatures and in the European Parliament. The latter party is the subject of this post.

After winning 9% of the vote and 15 out of 152 seats in the Berlin Parliament in 2011, the German Pirate Party shot to national prominence. The result put them above both the liberal Free Democratic Party and the far-right National Democratic Party, both parties with a long history in Germany. The Free Democratic Party had an especially bad time; they have been in the federal parliament since 1946.

The Berlin elections were the last to be held in 2011, but the party managed to win seats in the state of Saarland in 2012, winning 4 out of 51 and 7.4% of the vote. They also won 20 seats out of 237 and 7.8% in North Rhine-Westphalia and 6 out of 69 and 8.2% in Schleswig-Holstein.

By now. the media were treating the Pirates as a political party with an excellent chance of entering the Bundestag. The party were beginning to poll in the low teens. And while the temptation was to treat them as a joke, the traditionally close balancing of parties in the German Bundestag would mean that they would have to be taken very seriously by the German political establishment.

The party was positioned to make a big splash in the German political system. The poor polling of the Free Democrats, a party with a somewhat similar political view, meant that they could attempt to attract other liberal-minded voters. With the Social Democratic Party moving further to the left and the Free Democrats becoming irrelevant, there was a space in the German political system, and the Pirates were poised to enter that space.

However, just as the Pirates looked certain of entering the Bundestag (German federal parliament), the party began to lose support. It's hard to point to any single reason why they began to slide, but here are a few potential reasons.
  • Voters not taking the Pirates seriously, especially liberal-minded voters who may have supported a party of that sort without the Pirate symbolism.
  • Infighting between party leaders
  • Inability to appeal to voters outside their urban base
  • Focusing on narrow issues that many voters do not care about, like online surveillance.
As a result, the Pirates peformed poorly at the federal election. They only won 2.2% of the vote, which was below the 5% threshold required to enter the Bundestag. They fell further at the European Parliament election, winning only 1.45% of the vote in an election that is usually perceived as an opportunity to elect protest candidates. However, due to the abolition of the 3% threshold, the Pirates were able to elect 1 Member of the European Parliament out of 99.

The future of pirate politics

So, where is the German Pirate Party headed? Well, they have polled very, very badly in recent state elections. They have not managed to make any further impact, and while they may stick around in the Berlin parliament, they are unlikely to re-elect any other members of state parliaments.

One may ask then, why has the Pirate experiment so far failed? New political movements have entered worldwide, and the internet is a huge change that surely should cause some change in personal voting habits.

The simple fact is that voters have so far tended not to vote with the internet in mind. There are notable exceptions, but the internet may not end up creating a great political movement. Unlike the green movement, the Pirate candidates of 2014 do not have the issue of nuclear weapons to use for political purposes. The lack of diversification of the 1980s Greens was also aided by the economy not being a big political issue, while the Pirates' lack of an economic policy is poorly timed given that voters are viewing the economy as a big issue.

Who knows, perhaps the Pirates will rise again. Perhaps, when the economic crisis is over, internet surveillance will hit the headlines once more, and the Pirates will suddenly become relevant. However, in times like these, the Pirate Party is unlikely to make a serious and long-term impact.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Editor reserves the right to delete any comments on grounds including, but not limited to, irrelevant, offensive and threatening.