Vote, re­peat, & shuf­fle

Ex­pats in China re­act to the dra­matic out­come of the Ger­man elec­tion

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Ka­trin Büchen­bacher

The Ger­mans have voted. An­gela Merkel wins a fourth term and con­tin­ues to be chan­cel­lor.

Nev­er­the­less, the po­lit­i­cal land­scape has ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed as the Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) has won its first seats in the Bun­destag, the

na­tional par­lia­ment.

On the one hand, the Ger­mans didn’t sur­prise on­look­ers. Many of them still love their chan­cel­lor, who is some­times jok­ingly called “Mutti” (mommy). How­ever, her party, the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union (CDU), was con­sid­er­ably weak­ened com­pared to past elec­tions. She got only 33 per­cent of the votes, 8.6 per­cent­age points less than in 2013.

The real loser was the So­cial Demo­cratic Party (SPD) which now only has the sup­port of 20 per­cent of the vot­ers, a fall of 5.2 per­cent­age points over the last elec­tion. The for­mer coali­tion part­ner of the CDU, the SPD an­nounced its de­ci­sion to be­come the of­fi­cial par­lia­men­tary op­po­si­tion party shortly af­ter the elec­tion.

It ap­pears that Ger­many has jumped onto the pop­ulist train, just like the UK with the UK In­de­pen­dence Party, the US with Don­ald Trump and France with its Na­tional Front.

But how do Ger­man ex­pats in Bei­jing view the dra­matic elec­tion out­come in Ger­many? Are they look­ing for­ward to an­other term with Merkel, and how many of them voted from China?

The Global Times talked to mem­bers of the Ger­man expat com­mu­nity in Bei­jing to trace their sen­ti­ment to­ward

the elec­tions.

The con­tro­ver­sial AfD

The topic that pro­voked the strong­est re­ac­tion was the his­toric vic­tory of the AfD. The re­ac­tions of the Ger­man ex­pats ranged from shock to more prag­matic ap­proaches.

Sven Clasen, an expat from Bonn, Ger­many, doesn’t usu­ally have a sub­stan­tial in­ter­est in politics.

“But these re­sults nev­er­the­less shocked me,” he said.

The hard-right AfD is no longer a fringe party, and look­ing at in­ter­views with AfD politi­cians, Clasen hopes that “Ger­man his­tory doesn’t re­peat it­self.”

Louise (pseu­do­nym) from Bay­ern, who has lived in Bei­jing for two and a half years, was shocked at the high per­cent­age of votes for the na­tion­al­ist AfD.

“In Ger­many, a lot is hap­pen­ing that you can­not im­me­di­ately wit­ness from abroad,” she said.

Louise now hopes that the other par­ties can win the AfD vot­ers over and take their con­cerns se­ri­ously. What par­tic­u­larly up­set Louise was a study she read which sug­gests that peo­ple voted for the AfD de­spite its overly “racist rhetoric.” “Over 80 per­cent of AfD vot­ers re­ject racist re­marks ut­tered by AfD politi­cians,” she said. “The thing is, they still voted for them.” Ac­cord­ing to Louise, those who sup­port the AfD need to un­der­stand that they can­not triv­i­al­ize racist be­hav­ior. Michail Kosak from Köln, Ger­many, who is study­ing one year of Chi­nese at Ren­min Univer­sity ex­pected the AfD’s suc­cess. “Of course, it is very un­pleas­ant that the AfD won so many seats. But I think it is im­por­tant that we now act and do some­thing about the is­sues these vot­ers care about,” he said. Kosak, a mem­ber of the Free Demo­cratic Party (FDP),

be­lieves that the key to over­com­ing the AfD lies in re­solv­ing the po­lit­i­cal is­sue that ap­peals to their vot­ers most: im­mi­gra­tion. Kosak told the story of his Chi­nese friend who has a de­gree from a Ger­man univer­sity but still did not get per­mis­sion to stay in the coun­try, while at the same time, it seemed much eas­ier for refugees to en­ter Ger­many.

“We need a point sys­tem like Canada’s to es­tab­lish a more ef­fec­tive im­mi­gra­tion law,” he said.

Li­nus Schauser from Sch­leswigHol­stein, who came to Bei­jing for an in­tern­ship, was only partly sur­prised by the elec­tion out­come. Schauser said it’s “a pity” that AfD got so many votes, but ac­cord­ing to him, it was the fault of the main­stream par­ties who did not try to es­tab­lish a di­a­logue with the AfD.

“Ev­ery­one was just bash­ing them,” Sch­lauser said.

Fabian (pseu­do­nym), a vis­it­ing scholar at Pek­ing Univer­sity, is “un­happy” that the AfD is now the third strong­est party in the Bun­destag.

“In this glob­al­ized world, con­ser­va­tive politics do not bring a coun­try for­ward,” he said, re­fer­ring to the na­tion­al­ist and anti-EU politics of the AfD.

An­gela for­ever

The Ger­mans in Bei­jing have mixed feel­ings to­ward Merkel’s up­com­ing fourth term. Some ex­pats sup­port their long­time leader; oth­ers are tired of her ex­tended chan­cel­lor­ship.

Fabian seemed pleased with Merkel’s pol­icy. “She takes good de­ci­sions,” he said.

“I sup­port her strong po­si­tion on the refugee pol­icy, and I like how she rep­re­sents Ger­many in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

Fabian thinks the CDU lost vot­ers be­cause of how it dealt with glob­al­iza­tion is­sues dur­ing the past two years. He would like to see a pol­icy of open­ness to­ward Europe and the rest of the world in the fu­ture.

“Our coun­try has to do well, but not at the ex­pense of other na­tions,” he said.

Clasen like­wise ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with the CDU pol­icy and fully sup­ports his chan­cel­lor.

“Those who crit­i­cize Merkel don’t have con­struc­tive ar­gu­ments,” he said.

He hopes that Merkel’s govern­ment will pro­vide sta­bil­ity, se­cu­rity, and well­be­ing for to­day’s and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Kosak, on the other hand, is some­what tired of Merkel be­ing Ger­many’s leader. Nei­ther Merkel nor the SPD can­di­date, Martin Schulz, pro­vided him with good op­tions.

“Merkel does purely ad­min­is­tra­tive pol­icy, and Schulz lacks an ac­tual po­lit­i­cal pro­gram,” he rea­soned.

In­stead of too much po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, Kosak thinks it’s time for some changes. Dig­i­tal­iza­tion and ed­u­ca­tion are im­por­tant is­sues that should be on the po­lit­i­cal agenda, he said.

Schauser said main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity is good, but not at the price of stand­ing still.

“A big coali­tion, such as the one be­tween the CDU and the SPD, equals grid­lock,” he said. He doesn’t ap­prove of Merkel’s pol­icy but sees no real al­ter­na­tive.

“I can bear with her for an­other four years, hop­ing that the FDP and the Green Party spice things up a bit,” he said. Cli­mate pro­tec­tion and dig­i­tal­iza­tion are top­ics that Schauser cares about.

Vot­ing made hard

It is al­most im­pos­si­ble for Ger­mans to vote from China, wrote Lea Deu­ber, the for­eign cor­re­spon­dent of the Wirtschaft­sWoche, a lead­ing Ger­man busi­ness jour­nal on Septem­ber 19.

Ger­many doesn’t en­cour­age its cit­i­zens liv­ing abroad to cast their vote. Only votes sub­mit­ted via the postal sys­tem are ac­cepted, and even then, the would-be voter must ap­ply for the priv­i­lege. Also, the method does not take into ac­count the long and not al­ways se­cure global postal sys­tem.

Deu­ber lost her vot­ing doc­u­ments on the way to Shang­hai, and when she re­ported the mat­ter, the con­sulate there only en­cour­aged her to “try again in four years.”

Schauser was lucky be­cause he was able to cast his vote for the Green Party in Ger­many be­fore mov­ing to Bei­jing. Kosak also voted for the FDP back in Ger­many.

But none of the older ex­pats in Bei­jing were able to vote dur­ing the elec­tion pe­riod. Louise, who spent the elec­tion night at the Ger­man Em­bassy, would have liked to cast a vote her­self.

“But the pro­ce­dures make it very com­pli­cated for us,” she said, frus­trated.

Clasen didn’t get the chance to vote from Bei­jing ei­ther and re­gret­ted not hav­ing done so af­ter he heard the re­sults. He said that he would have voted for Merkel’s CDU party.

Fabian would have voted if the pro­ce­dure were sim­ple.

“I want to sup­port chan­cel­lor Merkel. It’s the only rea­son I would have voted for the CDU,” he said. “If only I had known that vot­ing from abroad was this com­pli­cated.”

Photo: Cour­tesy of Michail Kosak

Send your tips, in­sights or pho­tos to or call our Ad­dress: The Global Times English Edi­tion, 2 Jin­tai Xilu, Chaoyang District, Bei­jing 100026. Michail Kosak, a Ger­man stu­dent at Ren­min Univer­sity says he ex­pected the AfD’s suc­cess.

Pho­tos: Li Hao/GT, Cour­tesy of Sven Clasen

Li­nus Schauser from Sch­leswigHol­stein, Ger­many; Inset: Sven Clasen, a Ger­many expat from Bonn

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