First All-German Vote Is Marked by Calm after Four `Fateful Elections,' in a Year, Germans Have Reduced Smooth-Running Politics to an Art - a Letter from Bonn

By Francine S. Kiefer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 1990 | Go to article overview

First All-German Vote Is Marked by Calm after Four `Fateful Elections,' in a Year, Germans Have Reduced Smooth-Running Politics to an Art - a Letter from Bonn


Francine S. Kiefer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


HOW is it that the first all-German election since 1932, topping off a year of incredible political change here, feels like nothing so remarkable?

The Germans themselves say it is anticlimactic. For the residents of former East Germany, yesterday's polling was their fourth "fateful" election (as it was billed) in 10 months.

Part of the calm can be attributed to the German political system itself, which is so highly efficient that it could undertake the reunification process in less than a year with few problems.

To those used to rough-and-tumble elections, the streamlined German political machine can be somewhat alarming. It so lacks dissent that it seems almost undemocratic. Where's the noise?

The systematic approach to politics here starts with the all-important German parties. A visitor to Bonn can see the central role the parties play just by driving down the main road, the B9, where party real estate dominates the scenery. At night, the gigantic, red-neon letters "CDU," sitting atop the high-rise Christian Democratic Union headquarters, shine like the logo of a mighty manufacturer.

The parties themselves are run in a top-down style, which a diplomat in Bonn, in a recent interview, referred to as "analogous" to the way a Communist Party is run. Strong language perhaps, but the lack of open dissent at the yearly party congresses (excepting the Greens) is remarkable.

At these gatherings, the year's goals come down from the party leadership, a few amendments are discussed, and before you know it, the sea of hands sweeps up from the floor of delegates to mark approval. Solidarity is a key feature of party membership here and to launch into open disagreement is to be disloyal.

This solidarity is reinforced by the electoral setup, where there are no primaries. The parties select their candidates for the Bundestag, or parliament. And it is the Bundestag that elects the chancellor. …

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