Czerulf: Is democracy in a crisis? (Part 3 – Political parties)

View at Germany's parliament: "Reichstag"

View at Germany’s parliament: “Reichstag”

I started my little series about democracy in part 1 with some general considerations. In part 2 I spoke about the aim and the importance of the constitution. I then went on to narrate the German constitutional history. We learned that modern Germany is a parliamentary democracy. National, regional and local assemblies are elected by universal suffrage. Now it’s about time to investigate how does the right to vote translate into action?

This is my weekly column – out every Wednesday

Well, this is where political parties come in. They device catalogs of ideas and initiatives and nominate individuals that are supposed to implement them. All this is brought before the electorate for voting. Voters choose from what is on offer; and each party will then be able to send the number of delegates to the assembly which corresponds to the share of votes it received (at this point we disregard the different voting systems).

Now we have a parliament that represents the citizens. It elects a government on their behalf and all promises made before the elections will come true. So everyone lives happily ever after. The end.

Stop! It’s not that easy of course. This process has its obvious flaws.

Firstly, it is not difficult to see that whoever supervises the selection of individuals who stand for election is given an enormous amount of power. This power is exercised by relatively few people. No matter how large political parties are, they remain small in comparison to the entire electorate (the numbers for Germany are 1.3m and 64.3m respectively).

Secondly, to run an election campaign is expensive. To run a successful election campaign is even more expensive. This poses issues such as the financing of political parties, corruption, lobbying etc.

Thirdly, the very fact that voters can only pick from what has passed the screening of middlemen is in my view highly problematic. This tends to narrow the choices up to the point were practically no choice is left over. When this happens democracy ceases to exist. This has become a real possibility in Germany.

Coming up on Czerulf’s Thoughts

Next week I will pause with this series and I write instead few lines on the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). This fits nicely with what I just outlined above.

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Filed under Columns, Democracy, English

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