Friday, November 2, 2012

Proportional Representation

Since 2005 the Chancellor of Germany has been Angela Merkel of the CDU, the Christian Democrats, the conservatives, a party which has very much in common with the Republicans in the US, including, traditionally, a very cozy relationship with the petrochemical industry and the disdain for less-poisonous forms of energy generation which goes with that relationship. But Merkel broke dramatically with that position. She has supported a massive change to green energy. When she took office as Chancellor in 2005, the percentage of electricity in Germany generated by renewable means was around 10%, in 2011 it was over 20%, as we speak it's over 25% and growing fast. By comparison, when W was "elected" in 2000, a little less than 9.5% percent of the electricity in the US was generated by renewable means, and when Obama was elected in 2008 the percentage was about exactly the same. Now it's somewhere between 12.5 and 15% and growing, which is definitely a nice improvement, but Barack, of the more forward-leaning, progressive, green-friendly of the major parties in the US, is not even close to keeping up with the conservative, traditionalist Angela when it comes to being green. What's going on here? Are Germans just more intelligent?

No. I've been to Germany, and believe me, they're just as stupid as anyone else. But they have something that we don't have: (I feel like the Wizard of Oz here) proportional representation. In Germany, any party polling over 5% in an election gets a share of the national, statewide or local legislature chosen in that election, and since it hardly ever happens that one party gets over 50% of the vote, they have to come up with a coalition of parties of over 50%, and that coalition forms the administration. One of the things this means is that in Germany, (or France, or Belgium, or Italy, or Norway, or Finland, or a lot of other countries) if you vote Green, you're not throwing your vote away. This in turn means that a lot more people vote Green in countries with proportional representation than here in the US with our quaint antiquated winner-take-all system, although popular support for renewable energy is as strong here as elsewhere. And in turn that means that no political party in those countries can ignore the Greens anymore. Not even the Christian Democrats in Germany, the party of Helmut Kohl, appropriately named because Kohl means coal and traditionally the Christian Democrats have just looooooved coal and been paid very well to do so. Even before he retired back in 1998, Kohl was forced to say publicly that the Greens weren't so bad, something which sounded downright bizarre coming from him, something which since then Christian Democrats say quite often, especially when they're not getting along so well with the Social Democrats. The Greens have made it into national administrations in quite a few countries as the junior partner of the Social Democrats (Joschka Fischer, the most prominent single German Green politician so far, was Gerhard Schroeder's Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor from 1998 to 2005), into state and local administrations in coalitions with the Social Democrats and with others, sometimes in coalitions with the Christian Democrats, (or whatever the conservative party is called in a particular country) sometimes in coalitions of three or more parties, as the senior partner in some places, and the next Chancellor of Germany could conceivably be a Green. That's the sort of thing that can happen in a country with a political system which lets you vote for a third or forth or fifth party without throwing your vote away.

The sort of system we don't have yet, remember, so first things first: vote for Obama if you haven't yet, and for every other Democrat you can; and then support a Constitutional amendment to let you vote Green if you want to, or Socialist or Pirate or (shudder) Libertarian -- there are Libertarians (Free Democrats, they're called) in the Bundestag along with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats and Leftists and Greens, and Pirates will surely be in the next one, elected next year -- or anyone else you might happen to like better than the candidate put up by either the Democrats or the Republicans, without throwing your vote away. Imagine such a thing.


  1. Exactly. Well said. It's what we have in New Zealand. MMP: we have a party vote and an electorate vote with my seats in Parliament than electorates. My electorate vote goes to my Labour left wing local candidate and my party vote goes to the Greensarty. At the moment we have a National leader but he is well left of Obama. Regardless of our leader, there are enough Green party votes to ensure the winning majority party need to include the Green numbers and an agreement is formed with seats allocated in government in to gain a majority of seats. Consequently we always have Green members in parliament keeping the main party in line - Green. As well as other minor parties on both sides. But this is what America needs. If I had been an American voting in this election I might have felt morally drawn to vote Green even if I had been in a swing state - but you solved the crisis. I don't know how to go about getting a constitutional amendment. Like a referendum? I think I'll share this post on my facebook page. I hope you don't mind.

    best wishes, steph

  2. I don't mind at all. I'm delighted when people link my posts.

    Unfortunately, amending the US Constitution is a difficult, elaborate process. First, an amendment is proposed, either by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Congress, our nationwide legislature, or by statewide conventions in two-thirds of our fifty states; then, secondly, in order to take effect, the amendment must be ratified, either by the approval of three-fourths of the state legislatures, or by statewide conventions in three-fourths of the states. Congress decides which method of ratification will be used.

    Much easier said than done, but it has been done a few times. In the case of proportional representation, what needs to be done now is two spread awareness among the US citizenry that there is a better way, a way out of our present two-party gridlock, a way used successfully by most of the rest of the world.