Today, North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany went to the polls. This election is always closely watched in Germany, as it is the country’s most populous state. As expected, the Pirate Party won seats and entry into parliament – again – making this the Piratenpartei‘s fourth consecutive win.
After Berlin (8.9%), Saarland (7.4%), and Schleswig-Holstein (8.2%), the time had come to Nordrhein-Westfalen. As the exit polls were just presented, it is clear that the German Pirate Party has achieved its goal and secured seats in a fourth parliament: the exit polls indicate 7.5%, well clearing the five-percent hurdle for entry, and predicting 18 new Pirate Members of Parliament.
As the night progresses, and the actual votes are counted, this number will adjust somewhat. But the exit polls are always precise enough to give the end result with at most one percent unit of deviation in either direction.
This has a number of interesting ramifications. The immediate question is whether the expected weakening of the FDP, Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, will cause Germany’s government to collapse prematurely. That’s still too early to say – and with them staying in both the Schleswig-Holstein and Nordrhein-Westfalen parliaments (exit polls indicate 8.5% here), the risk of a premature collapse has lessened somewhat.
So we’re realistically looking at one more state election – Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) – before Germany, Europe’s most populous country, goes to elect its parliament in late summer of 2013.
(Germany is a federation of 16 states, each approximately the size of a more normal European country or a typical American state. The state voting today, Nordrhein-Westfalen, is the most populous of them with about 18 million people.)
This leads us to the interesting question – why did Germany of all countries have such breakthrough success with their Pirate Party? I can see five reasons.
The first reason is that the German Piratenpartei was long-term from the get-go. Where most pirate parties are started like any internet project – “we’re going to change the world come next weekend” – the Germans knew they would be around for a long time, and invested early in the organizational foundation for that.
The second reason is timing and ripples on the water. When the Swedish Piratpartiet had its breakthrough in the European Parliament, and was in media all over the world, the German Piratenpartei was able to exploit that momentum when a local minister named Ursula wanted to create a net censorship to fight CP. T-shirts with the name “Zensursula” were common, zensur being German for censorship. The goverment did not win the narrative on that one, and the idea of censorship was abandoned while the Piratenpartei raked in new members. I’d say that this was the breakthrough in activist critical mass.
The third reason is Germany’s federal party support. Having won 1% in the European elections and 2% in the federal elections in 2009 entitled the Piratenpartei to considerable governmental funding, which is paid out to all parties that beat the half-percent mark in elections. This has allowed the Piratenpartei to buy themselves the appearance of an established party out in the streets – their posters and banners are everywhere on paid billboards, as well as on streetlights and more activist-associated locations. But all of it looks professional, yet with a new message. It looks electable, which is key.
The fourth reason is the Piratenpartei‘s early broadening of the party platform. In Sweden, we learned the hard way in 2010 that not enough people will vote a party with a narrow platform to the general parliament. The European parliament was fine, but not the Swedish one. While we were busy running an election campaign, the German pirate party were busy discussing if – and if so, how – their program should be broadened. This was rewarded with 15 seats in the Berlin parliament, which leads me to…
The fifth reason is Berlin and the breakthrough there. In hindsight, Berlin was the perfect breakthrough location. With its characteristics of a melting pot between the government-suspicious East Europe and the progressive West Europe, mixed with a dash of political forward-thinking in the city culture itself, it would have been an obvious election to bet on for a breakthrough. But when it happened last September, it changed the game – and the media spotlight was taken so well care of, that the Piratenpartei managed to convert the progressive Berlin votes to enough votes in the industrial and traditional Saarland to enter into that parliament too. The Berlin victory of 8.9% was the definite breakthrough into mainstream awareness, and here we are.
Comments? Anything obvious I’m missing from the analysis?