Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Pirate Party Wins Twenty Seats in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Jubilant scenes greeted the news that the Pirate Party has won twenty seats in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state in Germany, in the recent regional elections. This makes four out of a total of sixteen regions where the Pirates have made their mark. Can they maintain their momentum or are they at risk of running out of steam?

I've "borrowed" a regional map from Wikipedia and overlaid it with orange to illustrate the Pirate Party's gains in Germany. They're doing very well there despite comments that they're just a flash in the pan and all form and no substance.

The critics' response

Beyond a few cyber-civil rights here, a little unconditional basic income there, there’s a bit of protesting in the medium of dance and, of course, a good dose of GM-free foods. This is not revolutionary thinking, it is cut-and-paste politics.

It may seem daring, freedom-loving, and boundary-breaking, but the Pirates offer freedom without substance, the form without the content. Democratic control depends on the virtual ‘Pirates collective’. The modern term for this is ‘swarm intelligence’, but all this really means is conformity, not revolution. - Matthias Heitmann, Spiked Online

It doesn't matter. The Pirate Party is waking up the dozing populace to remind them that their hard-won rights are being stolen away — and that the Left, who were formerly entrusted with this role, have abandoned their posts. And the people are loving it. The Pirate Party has won forty five seats in all:

  • 2011 Berlin state election 8.9 % of the votes, 15 seats

  • Landtag of Saarland March 2012 7.4% of the votes, 4 seats

  • Schleswig-Holstein May 2012 8.2% of the votes, 6 seats

  • North Rhine-Westphalia May 2012 7.8% of the votes, 20 seats.

Not bad for a six year old party.

The voting system and what it means for the Pirates

The Mixed member proportional representation system allocates seats in the national and regional parliaments by the percentage of the vote. The result of this is that in order to govern, political parties must form coalitions if they don't get enough seats to gain a majority. This makes Germany a multi-party state in contrast to the UK, where our first-past-the-post system means the candidate with the most votes gets a seat. For the Pirates, it means forming a coalition with the Greens or the Left-leaning parties to get a piece of the governing action.

Such stunning successes have caught the more established parties by surprise; the Socialists look down their noses at the Pirates and think of them as naive at best, ill-informed at worst; while the conservatives believe they're bad for business and agree in principle with ACTA's aims.

What they are paying attention to is the groundswell of support the Pirates now have. Conservatives have noted with glee that they're dividing the left while taking votes away from the more established parties, which are altogether too cozy when it comes to political opacity.

Platform to power

According to a recent report, the "liquid democracy" favoured by the Pirate Party as part of its transparency program is actually hindering them from getting anything done. However, they're adapting to meet the challenge and have so far eschewed any deals with other parties to form coalitions.

The same core ideology that seems to have attracted all of those new members may also help the party deal with this growth. While the Pirate Party is still vocal on copyright issues, transparency has become so central to its platform that any party in German Parliament wanting Pirates as a coalition partner would have to live-stream negotiations online. No one is likely to take the Pirates up on the offer, and that suits them fine; they are seeking additional experience in parliament before making a play to become part of government. - TechPresident

The lack of transparency that has won them so many followers will surely keep the momentum going. However, the Pirates were only really in the politics game to change the way it's played. If they achieve that, job done. After that, the choice is to either become another political monolith or slip into redundancy. It'd be fun to imagine a Pirate President or Chancellor one day, though, wouldn't it? It's a lot more likely to happen over there than over here.

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