Voting in German elections isn’t just tactical, it’s a calibration. On September 26, Berliners will have six different boxes to cross between three different elections and one referendum. For the Berlin state parliament, you have to be over 18 with German citizenship and have lived in the city more than three months to vote – which, according to the city’s statistical office, applies to 2,470,693 people.
In other words, a whole third of us are disenfranchised when it comes to city-level politics. Kind of a disgrace, given that Berlin makes such a big deal about being a big-hearted global capital.
Anyway, whatever happens, there’s going to be a little upheaval in September. Just as Germany is guaranteed a new chancellor is guaranteed a new mayor, as the SPD’s Michael Müller has decided to run for the Bundestag. (Germans who live in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf can vote for him as their direct candidate.) In his place, the Social Democrats have offered us Franziska Giffey, who is switching back to local politics after spending the last four years in Merkel’s cabinet as Family and Women’s Minister.
Giffey’s campaign so far suggests that she is mainly interested in the votes of suburban-south Neuköllners, rather than those of urban-north Neuköllners – she riled up people recently by saying that too much affordable housing in one area would lead to “too many social problems”.
Whether it was their fault or not, the SPD, Die Linke and the Greens were in charge when the rent cap fiasco happened earlier this year.
A big reason why none of the three main candidates is making much of an impression is that their campaigns are overshadowed by the Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen referendum. Behind the curtain of the polling booths, with just that big pencil for company, this vote is likely to sharpen voters’ minds on what they think of the current city government.
Whether it was their fault or not, the SPD, Die Linke and the Greens were in charge when the rent cap fiasco happened earlier this year. Now voters have a chance to force them to consider a more drastic scenario: expropriating the largest property developers and socialising 240,000 flats to make them affordable, by putting them in the hands of a public institution (not the government).
Whether the campaign wins its referendum or not, all the parties have been forced to take a position on this, so here’s what they say: Kai Wegner, the CDU mayoral candidate, is against it and thinks that companies would be able to block the move in the courts anyway. So is Giffey, who compared it in a Bild interview to the East German communist dictatorship she grew up in. The Greens’ Bettina Jarasch has said she will vote ‘yes’, while Die Linke candidate Klaus Lederer is not only in favour but has also promised that his government would vote it into law.
And therein lies the problem: as it stands, even if the ‘yes’ vote wins, the Berlin government is not obliged to implement the scheme. And as we saw with other successful referendums (such as the one for keeping Tegel Airport open), the government can always ignore the people. So maybe saying there are six boxes to cross on election day was a bit generous. Let’s call it five and a half.