A surprise result in Berlin’s State Parliament yesterday has seen the Free Democrats, coalition partners with the ruling Christian Democrats Union (or CDU), ousted and replaced by members of the Pirate Party of Germany according to The Guardian. But is the result really so unexpected?
Winning 8.9% of the vote, and securing 15 seats out of 149 in the State Parliament, the Pirate Party has two more seats than the Free Democrats achieved in the 2006 State elections. Having been disparaged by other parties such as the Green Party, and referred to frequently by various sources as being ‘outsiders’ and ‘rebels’, news sources (and indeed the Pirate Party themselves) have described the Pirate Party win as being surprising. Perhaps in terms of the number of seats won, it is an exceptional result. Yet it may well be that the message of the Pirate Party is resonating with voters. In particular, the Pirate Party manifesto takes a strong stance on civil liberties and against security rhetoric. As the manifesto states in its English language translation: -
‘The globalisation of knowledge and culture of mankind by digitalization and cross-linkage puts their present legal, economic and social conditions to test. Not least the wrong answers to this challenge abet the accruement of a total and totalitarian surveillance society. The fear of international terrorism lets security appear to be a more important good than freedom – and lots of people wrongly cease defending freedom.’
This would appear to be a broadening of the interests of the Pirate Party, occasionally referred to as being a single issue party. Initially, the Party focused predominantly on copyright and patent reform – arguing for ending the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies, encouraging the creative commons and non-commercial copying of creative works, and rejecting the patenting of genes. However, the manifesto has grown considerably, including provisions on data protection and privacy. In particular, the Party demands that the monitoring of a citizens communication by the government shall be allowed ‘only in the case of a confirmed suspicion that this citizen will commit a crime. In all other cases the government shall assume the innocence of its citizens and leave them in peace‘. Furthermore, the Party argues against the use of pervasive surveillance, stating that its use leads to a general atmosphere of distrust and fear in the public arena. In addition to these demands, the Pirate Party ran in Berlin on a platform of introducing living wages, the legalisation of drugs such as marijuana and a desire for complete governmental transparency.
While some may consider some of these goals to be somewhat idealistic, or even unrealistic, the fact that they achieved a substantial success in this election is not be dismissed. While an element of the Pirate Party win may be down to their position as political outsiders, or part of a ‘protest vote’ against a deeply unpopular government, Berlin is also home to a sizeable digital activist community which is strongly anti-censorship and anti-surveillance. The Pirate Party has been publicly active in this respect, such as Pirate Party members holding a protest in their underwear against the use of body-scanners in airports in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt in 2010. In times where digital activists and ‘hacktivists’ such as Anonymous and Lulzsec are becoming increasingly well-known, and with the proliferation of Pirate parties throughout Europe, such as the original Piratpartiet in Sweden (who now have an MP in the European Parliament), the Pirate Party UK, the Czech Pirate Party (who have three municipal councillors) and the Pirate Party of Spain (with two municipal councillors), while the scale of the Berlin result may well be surprising, it may also be a sign of things to come.