In many democracies, each time there is an important election all kinds of odd and interesting people take part. They could be porn stars, singers or entertainers. They could be retired teachers who have stood for election a hundred times, and so on. It happens all the time, but now people in Germany have actually voted into office as state legislators candidates from the Pirate Party.
Minor parties with alternative standpoints, such as the Pirate Party, winning seats in an election is something that nobody believes until it actually happens. It is as if the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which was established by Internet nerds, were to actually build a church from which to preach their Pastafarian ways.
However, it really has happened, with the Pirate Party Germany winning 8.9 percent of votes cast in last month’s Berlin state election, giving them 15 seats in the legislature. From now on, commentators will have to treat the Pirate Party Germany as more than just a laughing stock.
The Pirate Party movement began in 2006. As Europeans grow more dissatisfied with the existing state of affairs, the movement has gradually gained strength and spread to other countries.
The international Pirate Party movement has been growing for a number of years and the Swedish Pirate Party has a seat in the European parliament. While this makes it a bit less surprising that candidates from the German party should get elected, what is surprising is that they managed to get over the 5 percent threshold, which allows them not only to hold seats, but also to receive state funding.
It should be kept in mind that the biggest party in the Berlin state parliament — the Social Democratic Party — only got 28 percent of the vote, while the Pirate Party with its 8.9 percent of votes did not have a single paid employee before its recent election win. In the areas where the Pirate Party won the most votes, its vote tally reached as high as 14 percent.
While the Pirate Party’s views on copyright are markedly different from current mainstream values, most of its standpoints are quite moderate and clear. It wants to see transparency in politics and it calls for making government data openly accessible, for reducing the voting age and for free public transport. Regarding copyright, its views are close to those of the new age movement, namely limiting copyright restrictions, strengthening citizens’ privacy rights and so on.
Another purpose of the Pirate Party’s participation in politics is that they want these demands to be heard. As Pirate Party Germany Federal Chairman Sebastian Nerz says, its success can persuade the media and citizens to treat these issues seriously.
In the days before social networks came into existence, voters were often subject to divide-and-rule tactics, but now social networks have allowed people with minority tastes to band together. At the same time, although the Internet is now highly developed, mainstream social values and the consciousness of developed countries is still largely based on that of the baby-boom generation. There are people born in the Internet era who have reached the age of 18, but they have few political figures or platforms to represent them.
Under the principle of “one person, one vote,” the Pirate Party has finally managed to concentrate enough support in a city to succeed in an election. The Pirate Party’s elected representatives appear quite middle class and moderate, a far cry from the geeks and nerds outsiders might have imagined.
Taiwan is to hold a legislative election in January. The fact that electoral districts have been made smaller has reduced politicians’ faith in the Internet and its usefulness. In fact, politicians are now relying even more than before on conventional electioneering methods.
Furthermore, no matter which generation they belong to, politicians from the two main parties in Taiwan still talk and think very much in the style of the baby-boom generation. The issues they talk about in public are very limited. They spend most of their time sparring over the hackneyed argument of unification versus independence, while other issues usually get no more than a passing mention. Even politicians themselves don’t believe that voters care about these issues.
Be that as it may, politics is after all a choice of values and tastes, which are sure to vary among different generations, with the Internet helping to create an even bigger gap in tastes and values.
The values of the baby-boom generation are not necessarily universal. Perhaps Taiwanese politicians could think a bit more about what voters want to talk about. Just because voters do not bring it up themselves does not mean that they don’t want to discuss other issues.
The votes of the disgruntled will find somewhere to go eventually. When that happens, the two big parties might be taken by surprise, and they may well regret not having done something about it a bit sooner.
Shyu Ting-yao is chair of the Association of Digital Culture Taiwan.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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