The elections in Lower Saxony state yesterday marked an end to the run of the German Pirate Party. After being elected in September 2011 into Berlin state parliament (Abgeordnetenhaus), they also managed to enter the parliaments in Northrine-Westphalia, the Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein. Now they failed breaking the 5 per cent barrier that avoids too much fragmentation of the parliaments: only 2.1 per cent of the voters decided to support the orange colored.
The explanations for the pirates disaster, which was expected in the polls and by many journalists and politicians but obviously nothing the pirates themselves took seriously, are many.
First of all, the pirate parties public image has changed. The federal party is quarreling, several of its managing board members left and still, after four years of existence, the party is not able to represent much more but a protest movement for better politics, not only for digital issues but also for the sake of better participation in political decision making, transparency and in general a better democracy. Which sounds nice, but the tools the pirate party is using internally aren’t as robust as needed, the mechanisms of the online party internal democracy are still in development and often bypassed by the own decision makers. Some say, the pirate party looks like the Liberal party now, known for internal quarrels and being mainly busy with themselves but with politics.
Second, the pirate party has not managed to transfer the high aims of transparency and a better democracy into politics for this particular state. Why does it matter for lower saxonians to vote for the Pirates? What is their political offer? Are they giving a real alternative or are they a toolbox provider only – and nobody knows whether they can apply their tools to the existing reality and what is the effect of this?
Third, and maybe the most important issue for the upcoming federal elections in Germany in September: the Pirate Party was inbetween a major political decision between keeping the prime minister or dismissing him, with the polls getting closer day by day and now ending up in a one-seat-majority setting for the until-now-opposition. The Christian-Democrats / Liberal party ruling coalition was able to motivate voters to split their votes (candidate vote for the CDU, party list vote for the FDP) and save the liberal FDP from dropping out of the state parliament of Lower Saxony. The Social Democrats / Greens opposition managed to gain some points. But the race became very close in the polls a few weeks before the election. There was little to no answer by the Pirates on what their function in this political environment could look like. The chance of using your vote for a party that doesn’t take the 5 per cent barrier narrowly and by that counter-voting your intentions was high for voters. Those who may have sympathized with the Pirates had little choice but to vote in favour of Social Democrats or Greens to secure the outcome the wanted (there’s good reason to believe CDU supporters are relatively unlikely to vote for the Pirate Party).
If the same situation comes up at the Federal Parliaments, the Bundestag election, the Pirate Party will have to give better answers than it did in Lower Saxony. Otherwise, they will be swatted in the classical political parties horse race. The one who is still giving them hope that September won’t be the same situation as in Lower Saxony this weekend so far is the Social Democrats chancellorship candidate Peer Steinbrück, who is running a remarkably weak campaign and showing an unexpected ability of dropping a brick every week. But if the Pirates don’t solve their own problems, even this won’t help them. On the federal level, voters will think twice before sending the political newbies into offices they say they would be able to fulfill their duties in – but there’s little prove yet they are.