Emotions are rising in the German general election campaign, not least because support for Die Linke – the left-wing socialist party - has swelled to its highest level this year, threatening Chancellor Merkel’s dream of forming a coalition majority. At the same time more and more voters are finding themselves moved by a campaign to change Germany’s national symbol from the eagle to a bunny.
In Canada I once considered voting for the Parti Rhinocéros. Back then the Rhinos’ basic credo, their so-called primal promise, was ‘a promise to keep none of our promises’. Among the party’s outlandish and impossible schemes were repealing the law of gravity, improving higher education by building taller schools and tearing down the Rocky Mountains so Albertans could see the Pacific sunset. The party also proposed turning the Trans-Canada Highway into a one-way street.
‘The rhinoceros is an appropriate symbol for a political party,’ a spokesman declared, because politicians are by nature ‘thick-skinned, slow-moving, dim-witted, can move fast as hell when in danger, and have large, hairy horns growing out of the middle of their faces.’
Joke or satirical parties amuse and entertain voters around the free world. Sweden is the home of the Donald Duck Party, Hungary champions the Double-tailed Dog Party and Poland has – or had – the Polish Beer-Lover’s Party (it’s now defunct – and presumably still hung-over - after its intoxicating win of 16 seats in the 1991 national election). The UK claims the largest number of frivolous political parties including the Church of the Militant Elvis Party, the Death, Dungeons and Taxes Party and the enduring Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
Germany – with its history of parties that were no joke – has long had a dearth of tongue-in-cheek politicians. Over the last decade Die Partei – literally The (political) Party – has failed to capture the public imagination with its plan to rebuild the Berlin Wall and put all the country’s pensioners behind it in the former eastern half of the country. Likewise the punkish Anarchistic Pogo Party – with its hedonistic campaign promise to create communal love-making centres, so-called Mitfickzentralen – has raised little more than a chuckle among serious German voters.
This shortage of dottiness has finally been put to rights. As Henning Hoff reports elsewhere on the site, Horst Schlämmer has seized the political limelight. The grotesque deputy-editor of the Grevenbroicher Tagblatt newspaper, Schlämmer, with his distinctive walrus moustache, big teeth, and strong Rhineland accent, is leading a strong campaign for his Horst-Schlämmer-Party (HSP). He wants to become Chancellor, running for election on the platform of ‘conservative, liberal, and left – something for everyone’.
Schlämmer’s vote-catching proposals included the abolition of the traffic offenders’ register, state-funded sun-beds and beauty enhancement operations and a basic, state-guaranteed income of €2,500 for everyone. His campaign slogan is the catchy ‘Rabbit Power for Germany’.
In a recent poll for Stern magazine, one in five Germans stated that they would consider voting for Schlämmer if his name were to appear on the ballot paper. At the same time another survey chose him as the country’s most popular person, ahead of former tennis star Steffi Graf, the Pope and football supremo Franz Beckenbauer (as well of course as the leaders of all the main political parties).
Unfortunately Schlämmer can’t become Chancellor because he doesn’t exist. Like Sasha Baron Cohen’s alter-egos Borat and Bruno, Schlämmer is a comic creation. The German comedian and entertainer Hape Kerkeling invented the fictional character for his new fake-documentary film Horst Schlämmer – isch kandidiere (‘I’m standing for election’).
Political commentators such as Michael Spreng, the former editor of the Bild am Sonntag tabloid, have criticised Chancellor Merkel for running a lacklustre campaign. To Spreng, Merkel is the ‘political chief-anaesthetist’ while her leading challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier is her ‘assistant doctor’, who are together conducting a ‘content-free campaign-avoidance campaign’. No wonder then that Hape Kerkeling – through Schlämmer – has been able to inject some life into the process. Nor that Die Linke – with their notably distinct campaign promises – are gaining ground.
After a slow start the election is now exciting German emotions. The chances have increased of the smaller parties – the FDP, the Greens and Die Linke - winning enough votes to form an alliance. Their coalition may be unworkable of course. But in that case, perhaps they should take the advice of Canada’s Parti Rhinocéros. The Rhinos once declared that, should they actually win an election, they would immediately dissolve Parliament and call for a new national vote.
‘We Rhinos think that elections are so much fun, we want to hold them all the time.’
There’s no doubt that Horst Schlämmer would agree – as would his bunny.