The tech-focused Pirate Party has shocked Germany's political establishment by winning nine percent of the vote in Sunday's Berlin state elections.
The German branch of the Pirate Party (the Piratenpartei), which had never before participated in the elections, will now get around 15 seats in the Berlin state parliament. It came in fifth, but won substantially more support than that shown for the Free Democrats (FDP) — the pro-business FDP, junior coalition partner to Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in the federal government, now no longer has representation in the capital's administration.
"This is all very new for us," leading Pirate Party candidate Andreas Baum was quoted by Deutsche Welle as saying. "We will need to prepare, get into the swing of things, but you will be hearing from us. You can be sure of that."
The German Pirate Party began, like the original Swedish and other international versions of the group, as an organisation devoted to defending internet freedoms and data protection, and urging copyright and patent reform.
However, the Berlin election saw the party there expand its remit, also calling for free public transport and votes for over-14s, while campaigning against secretive privatisation deals. Under-30s apparently accounted for most of the Pirate Party vote, which shot up once pre-election polls showed the party would clear the five-percent hurdle needed to get into the state parliament.
The left-wing party chooses its leadership by lot, and designed its own idiosyncratic posters for the Berlin campaign, joking about such things as privatising religion, but also actively appealing to the vote of those who found more traditional parties too centrist and similar.
The German Pirate Party was founded in 2006. Three years later, it garnered two percent of the vote in national elections, failing to get representation in the federal parliament but winning the right to limited official funding. Since then, it has gained a few seats in council elections, but the Berlin results mark the first time it has won at state level.
Internationally, the Berlin election marks the best result for the Pirate Party movement since it gained a Swedish MEP in the 2009 European Parliament elections — the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty subsequently gave the Pirates two MEPs, rather than one.
The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) got the most votes in the Berlin election, giving incumbent mayor Klaus Wowereit a third term. Wowereit will now need to choose a new coalition partner as his erstwhile colleagues at the far-left Die Linke party, who finished fourth on Sunday, did not get enough votes to prop up the SPD this time.
In their campaign literature, the Pirates noted that their name was ironic, joking that they were as much bandits and thieves as the CDU were Christians and the SPD socialists. On an unrelated note, Monday is International Talk Like A Pirate Day.