On September 27, 2009, the Federal Republic of Germany will vote for their 17th "Bundestag", i.e., its federal parliament. Due to my absence on the actual election day, I went to the ballot today already for early voting. Here is proof:

German Parliamentary Elections Ballot

The staff were very helpful and interestingly, there were actually a lot of people asking for absentee ballots.

Another observation struck me as odd while reading the ballot: Of all people, the direct candidate of one of the nationalist parties*) is a "Fremdsprachensekretärin", or certified multi-lingual secretary. Yup, a foreign-language secretary by day, moonlighting as a xenophobe. Life's ironic.

*) whom I didn't vote for, just in case that was unobvious.

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Wahlkampf mit Gesichtern
Creative Commons License photo credit: daklebtwas
Tomorrow, June 7, 2009, the people of Europe elect the next European Parliament. Perhaps less well-known, this date also coincides with the local elections in the state of Baden-Württemberg, so besides the European ballot, I will also get to vote for

  • the local town council
  • the city council of the city my home town belongs to
  • and the district council.

While possibly not the most influential councils of all, the number of elections at once is quite impressive. What makes these elections the most fun of all though, are the concepts of "Kumulieren" and "Panaschieren" that I'll shortly explain to you here.

Let's assume there are three active parties in this election: A light blue one, a pink one, and an orange one. For each of these, you'll receive a ballot containing their designated votees, along with the instructions telling you that you have, for example, 10 votes at your disposal.

Imagine you like the pink party the most. The easiest way to handle this is to take the pink ballot, fold it, and drop it into the ballot box. You'll automatically have given each of the people on the ballot 1 vote. But we are in Germany, and we find "simple" boring, so let's spice that up a bit.

It just happens that you like one guy in the Pink party, Paul Olitician, more than the others. After all, whenever you meet him at the bars, he buys you a beer, and to return the favor, you listen to him explain his political visions in detail. The perfect symbiosis, if you will.

In that case, you can go ahead and "accumulate" up to three votes on Paul, and then spread the remaining seven votes across the other candidates on the ballot. You may end up not having enough votes for each of the party members on there, but that's fine, as one of them is your former high school teacher whom you didn't like very much anyway. The process of giving a person on the ballot more than one vote is called "Kumulieren" in German.

But then, just before and you are done giving away all your votes, you realize there are empty lines left on each of the ballots. Also, you notice your neighbor John is a candidate for the light blue party. You don't want to vote for them as a whole, because you still like the pink party better, but you would like to vote for John. After all, you are still grateful for that one time when he heroically kept you from falling off the ladder when he caught you stealing from his cherry tree.

Luckily, the second concept called "Panaschieren" comes in handy. You manually write John's name onto the pink ballot, allowing you to give your remaining votes to him.

After you're done, you fold the ballot, stuff it into the envelope and drop it into the ballot box. With a strong feeling of accomplishment, you head to the bars. To discuss your successful voting with Paul, and to get rid of that horrific taste the envelope glue left in your mouth. You secretly promise yourself, next time you'll vote for the party to introduce self-adhesive envelopes to the German election system.

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World leaders have hailed the election of Senator Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States.

... writes BBC News and expresses what I am sure at the very least most of Europe thinks: That Obama's election for president is not only good for the United States, but good for the world.

German politicians are also thrilled about the outcome of the US elections and both the Chancellor and the Minister of the Exterior are "looking forward" to working with Obama and his government. The German president reassured Obama in a letter that the US "can count on Germany as a dependable partner and long-time friend".

Still, the international expectations are high. Some of them are justified, others not. For example, the Europeans need to realize that Obama was not elected in order to solve the world's problems in a way that conforms with the ideals of the European Union. I expect him to pursue first and foremost the success of his own country, as is his legitimate job, of course. And while he is greatly popular in my country (some people call him the "next Kennedy", as a reference to the major popularity of JFK in Germany: Remember "ich bin ein Berliner"?), he'll not use his power to make the Germans' life easier. The financial crisis, for instance, may have been "brewed" in the USA originally, but Germany will have to carry its share of it like everybody else, and not even a president Obama will change that.

So I sure hope that the German disappointment is not too big once they land back on the hard asphalt called "reality". One of the first times this is bound to happen may be when Ms Merkel's phone rings and Obama asks her to send more German soldiers to Afghanistan. But, as Michael Zürn (a professor for international relations in Germany) says in an interview with tagesschau.de, maybe this is even helpful for the German discussions on what role we even want to play internationally, and what we are willing to invest.

This, however, leads to another problem: In September 2009, Germany is due to vote for a new parliament (and, consequently, a Chancellor). With so much focus on and excitement about the U.S. elections, it almost seemed like the Germans forgot their own reality: That we need change in our own country as well. That our government is busy selling out our constitutional rights instead of establishing trust. And that as of now, there's no "German Obama" in sight who is likely to glue the constitution together again.

("Obama campaign poster" picture CC by-nc-sa licensed by Anthony Baker on flickr; "Day one" comic by Mike Luckovich on comics.com)

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History has shown again and again that a vice president must be ready to assume command of the ship of state on a moment’s notice. But Ms. Palin has given no indication yet that she is capable of handling the monumental responsibilities of the presidency if she were called upon to do so.

From a New York Times opinion on the capability of Sarah Palin to become Vice President of the US.

Related: CNN commentator Jack Cafferty calls Palin "pathetic":

For me as an international observer, this is all very scary: Does the international community want such a pilot, just one 72-year-old heartbeat away from flying the world's biggest "jet"? I think politicians across the globe are praying these days for this not to happen.

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