So you are reading the first word thinking Alternative something? Close. Alternativlos (pronounced: Ahlteir-nah-tif-lohs) is a term that made its way into German political consciousness sometime in 2010. It largely means without alternatives. And Fela might say “question don jam answer” as there is no choice in the choice. Or is there? Germans voted last Sunday, with a sensibility so foreign to us Nigerians, it could be called subdued-madness.
But before this sounds like a German-bashing entry, and it is not, I invite my fellow compatriots to see Germans in a new light. Because even if Germans are known for being organized and predictable, they are onto something with how they let their leaders govern.
For example in the town of Freiburg, the five electoral candidates came together for dinner and political conversation. The evening was surprisingly humorous and collegial, some even agreed with each other! There was no heckling, an audience member or two would try, only to be shushed by those around them. Imagine this subdued-madness in anywhere in Nigeria?!
Germans do elections in a way all new to me or us Nigerians. I mean it took me a while to realize they were in election season. There were no campaign memorabilia in windows or on backpacks, you don’t even see them on cars or bikes (we ride our bikes a lot[!] here). Basically you don’t see anything or hear anything, unless you want to.
And as I have come to depend on the daily experience of living in Freiburg to inform my views–a sort of gra-gra approach, relatively unwise too, I was only clued-in a month ago. A not-so wise choice, as one could describe Freiburg as a cross between the Victoria Island and the Akoka [neighbourhoods of Lagos] area of Germany. Victoria Island because most people here don’t really suffer and have what one might call luxury problems. And Akoka-area because of the UNILAG campus feel to it. And many other Germans would claim Freiburg just has its own pace with things. Add this to the fact that my German leaves little to be desired–although I can make sure not to get kidnapped if needed, but carry on respectable conversation I cannot. But I was able to follow the evening’s political conversation.
It seemed that Merkel was assured of victory, as Bavaria carried 15% of national votes. Bavaria/Bayern–the Lagos of Germany, but morphs into the Abuja of Germany in election season–had already voted, past Sunday (15th). And the results had Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (aka Christian Social Union) as the winner. CSU sounds alot like CDU–Merkel’s party. And that is because they are basically the same party, but because, like the American state of Texas, Bavaria partially considers itself a country in its own right, it wants its own party. And so there is the CSU. And as an ignorant Nigerian, who wonders how German elections would affect Nigeria anyhow, I presume all is well.
Well, not so. My unscientific survey of friends and colleagues in Germany yielded a range of issues that bother Germans and some had a visceral dissatisfaction to Merkel’s governing style.
Even though Nigerians don’t really have a middle class, we can still understand why any middle class anywhere, even a rich one would want their voices heard if they feel themselves squeezed. And the German middle class does.
Neither CDU or SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, the Opposition party) had policies that appealed to the more than half-a-dozen Germans with whom I spoke. All had claimed to be middle class. And if you think middle class Nigerians complain too much, Germans are like a lioness who senses danger to her cubs. Several of my friends are what I call functioning disillusionists. One friend said: “yeah Merkel is going to win, but I am going to vote for the Die Linke–now here’s a real Opposition Party–so that at least we still have an Opposition.” You can commend the practicality of such a thought.
I’ve found that most Nigerians would just fall into the my-vote-doesn’t-count-so-i-won’t-vote thinking. But here in Germany, citizens believe that you can regulate power by opposition, so they vote. Thus, this worked out in a way that had FDP— Freie Demokratische Partei, a different party, though liberal, still seen as very similar to CDU—losing big in Bavaria, and unable to secure the 5% needed to secure their spot in the Bundestag, and keep Philip Rößler’s Vice Chancellor’s position.
A quick note on Rößler, he is the first visible minority I’ve seen in German politics, and he’s as German as Apfelkuchen! But his policies had one friend almost pulling out his hair–evidently too capitalist. In Nigeria, our politics is all personality and ethnocentric, if we have a Yoruba, we would keep him there, corrupt he may be, he will remain there, tipka-tipka! However, for Germans, politics is less an extension of the citizen’s sensitivities and more of the practicalities of life and the future. FDP-Rößler may be handsome, young and Asian, but most Germans are not happy with the policies so they get the boot. No sympathy vote here. And that is the beauty of German voting.
Yes, it is quiet, non-flashy, and really not so exciting, but it gets things done. Now, that is my hope for our Nigerian voting some day. We, Nigerians would do well to learn from how Germany votes. Really. The country and its politics–especially after the War–has a staunch coalition, semi-consensus approach to governing. And from what I know about consensus, exciting it may not be, hit-songs it may not inspire– it nevertheless produces a higher level of living and security for its governed, something Americans could certainly use. And that is inspiring.
Ms. Adepeju O. Solarin, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, contributed this reflection on the German election from Freiburg, Germany.
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