Vote, repeat, & shuffle
Expats in China react to the dramatic outcome of the German election
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
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 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.
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.”
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.
Linus Schauser from SchleswigHolstein, Germany; Inset: Sven Clasen, a Germany expat from Bonn