The farcical 'election' of Frank-Walter Steinmeier

16 Feb 2017

The German parliament is hardly the best environment for comedy, but had the election not been so mind-numbingly boring, more people may have been able to see the ridiculousness of the vote.


Let's be very clear from the outset: the new president of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was not democratically elected by the German people. He has appointed himself as Germany's new voice against Donald Trump, yet has absolutely no mandate to act in this capacity.


Having been appointed by the political elite of the nation, Steinmeier contented in his acceptance speech that democracy in Germany needs to be strengthened. The 'democratic' process by which he was given his new post makes a mockery of the very democracy he claims to want to strengthen.


The process is a little complicated. Every five years the 630 members of the German parliament come together to vote in a new president. Along with the MPs, 630 'electors' join them, who are made up of representatives the 16 states.


These 'electors' are purely for show. While they're meant to represent the German people, the reality is very different. Each state has a different number of electors based on its population size, and those electors who are chosen to represent their state are voted in by the regional government. This means that the 630 electors have no mandate from the people to vote for the new President.


This means that the regional governments can vote for whoever they want. This led to the electors, who are meant to represent ordinary Germans, being made up of film stars and singers, along with the German national football coach, Joachim Löw, and Germany's most famous drag queen.


The reality of the actual vote is that it's just a procession. It's purely ceremonial. Everybody knew who the new president was going to be before the vote, to the extent that the winner didn't have to campaign. So obvious was it, that his victory party was held the night before the vote.


So to correct The Independent's headline 'Germans elect new anti-Trump president', the German people didn't actually elect him. He was given the post by his party.


The unbelievable thing about this vote is that the 'electors' are put there so they can represent the German people, but the results of the vote do not reflect German opinion in the slightest.


The Social Democratic Party candidate won with 74% of the vote, yet his party is polling at around 20% on a good day. While the second place candidate from The Left Party got a relatively representative share of the vote at 10%, the third place candidate from the widely criticised Alternative for Germany, received 3% of the vote, whereas most polls put the Party between 13% and 20%.


Some may argue that actually none of this really matters because the president has no legislative power - he only signs new laws, and only in times of crisis can step in to enforce the constitution.


This completely misses the point. Steinmeier was the anti-Trump candidate. He will now, in all likelihood, use his new position to criticise the new President. In fact he used his acceptance speech to criticise the President's 'America first' policy.


In order for a politician to speak in a position of power on behalf of a nation or their constituents, they should be given to democratic mandate by the people they represent. Steinmeier does not have this mandate, and so should not be speaking out on behalf of the German people. 


In an interview after his 'election', he dismissed calls for a popular vote on the grounds that the German people would expect him to say things and have opinions. Yet he has already broken the rule of staying politically neutral by criticising the President Trump.


Although Germany should be leading the opposition against Trump, what is far more important is that those doing so on the behalf of the people have the democratic mandate to represent the people. We, the people, elect politicians to speak on our behalf and we should dismiss those who pretend to speak on our behalf without having been given that mandate.


Just because this man is against Trump doesn't mean we should let our guard down. We should be strong in enforcing that politicians are only allowed to speak on our behalf if we allow them to, because ultimately they are responsible to us.


What is very clear is that the German people didn't vote in this man to represent them. He was voted in by Germany's political elite. What a shame.





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