Political Awareness as an Expat
There is something in the air in Germany. Not just the cold burst of frigid winter winds that has us cowering beneath our massive scarves - something is up.
Casual talk has taken on an undertone of urgency and through my broken German I hear muttered words like Piraten, Kanzlerkandidaten and Merkel tossed about with abandon. Signs are littered over the city. Political chatter consumes the TV and radio. Even clueless me can see it's election season.
The German federal election will be held on September 22nd, 2013 and will determine the almost 600 members of the 18th Bundestag (main federal legislative house of Germany). Among the most likely coalitions are the CDU+CSU/FDP or the SPD/Greens coalition. Whatever happens, Germany may be facing a new direction in government.
Much like the inverse of what I felt on the 4th of July, the Germans are gearing up for something I am not a part of. As an American expat, I have no right to vote in this country. EU citizens can participate in the district parliament's elections (Bezirksverordnetenversammlungen or BVV), but they also can't vote for the mayor, senate, parliament or Bundestag.
A perpetual topic of discussion for expats, we've covered different aspects such as the expat movement to gain extended rights for Brits to vote from abroad. The Exberliner brought up the topic this election season with their piece, Should Expats Get the Right to Vote?
Berliners will be voting in Germany's federal elections on September 22. But roughly 440,000 – more than 10 percent of the city's population – can't go to the polls.
I can attest that expats make up a healthy portion of the city, but I commonly feel that even though I live in Berlin - for years at this point - I still have trouble calling Berlin home. Part of this is because it feels like I could leave and the city would never notice. It is a bustling metropolis of activity with people coming and going every day. I also realize I am still woefully ignorant of many of the intricacies of German life, let alone German politics. Despite the time I've put in, events like the upcoming election highlight how not German I am.
In 2008, US presidential hopeful Barack Obama came to Berlin and delivered his now famous "Victory Column" speech. Nearly 200,000 supporters and curious spectators attended the event to hear what he had to say. This was the largest stop on his campaign trail to the White House.
I braved the crowds and arrived at the Siegessäule to listen to what I hoped would be my future president speak. Wild anticipation had the crowd screaming at the mere sight of him and I still remember the breathless, painful optimism I felt for the future.
There is a reason for this connection. Though my current location is in Germany, the USA is stamped on my personal history, my genes, and my passport. And in America, I get a vote.
Current Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the CDU, won re-election on Sunday for the third time. They increased their share of the vote by about eight points to 42 percent. This is the best since the conservative days of 1990 with Helmut Kohl. Did you vote?
Can you vote in the country you live in? Do you vote in elections in your country of citizenship? Do you feel like the laws are fair in your country of residence?