02 January 2010

"Political non-voters" in Germany

A new type of non-voter grabbed the attention of the German media prior to last September's federal election: the conscientious, or political, non-voter.

Non-voting as a political stance against the shortcomings of parliamentary democracy appears to have been popularized by renowned journalists and writers like Gabor Steingart and Thomas Brussig. They and others of similar thinking participated not only in many pre-election talk shows, but published books and essays calling for voter abstinence.

Steingart's book, for example, is titled "Die gestohlene Demokratie" (Stolen Democracy; Piper, September 2009):


Non-voting they identify as a mode of resistance to the "political class", the "cartel", and as objection to being treated like "cattle" led to the voting booth. They feel defrauded by the party state and the interchangeability of the programmes of political parties that may have become obsolete and overextended, but cling to power. Parties, they argue, are no longer representative of the people they rule. German democracy thus has become dull and tired. It is a "democracy from above" and politics is made without the people.

In the May 2009 issue of the "magazine for political culture", "Cicero", Brussig, a former inhabitant of the German Democratic Republic, wrote: "Every generation deserves its revolution. There was 1968, and there was 1989. From that timing, something is bound to happen soon". With a view to the current economic crisis: "A system that has positioned itself for eternity can collapse all of a sudden. It happens very fast and with a dreamlike ease. Moreover, it is wondrously beautiful" (my translation).

There is no shame in not voting, so their message. If you don't vote, you still set a political sign. Non-voting is the "enlightened" thing to do.

Participation in last year's German elections was indeed the lowest since the end of the Second World War.

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