x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Germany's poll chief has humour failure

Die Partei has been declared not serious enough to run in the ballot - despite campaigning for the Berlin Wall to be rebuilt.

Berlin // A German political party waging a satirical campaign to rebuild the Berlin Wall is protesting against being barred from the September 27 general election and says many Germans support its call to turn the east back into a "special economic zone". Die Partei - German for The Party - was formed in 2004 and won a total of 18,000 votes in the last general election in 2005. Its founder and chairman, Martin Sonneborn, the former editor of a satirical magazine, has taken legal action against a recent ban by the country's top election official who said The Party was not serious enough to stand. "Germany urgently needs us and I'm convinced we would do well in the election because we're well prepared," Mr Sonneborn said in an interview. The party has made a 90-minute "propaganda documentary" about its work since 2004, which will debut in cinemas in August. That work includes building a symbolic stretch of wall along the former border between East and West Germany and demanding that easterners pay licence fees for all the West German TV they surreptitiously watched under communism. The Party also sent a delegation to Georgia in 2007, where it was wined and dined by politicians who mistakenly believed they were hosting an influential political party with 30 seats in parliament. In a recent editorial titled "What Obama Can Learn From Me", Mr Sonneborn said his propaganda documentary format would make the US president's reliance on Twitter and Facebook in last year's campaign look outdated. "This film will spread our fame and bring us a lot of fresh support," said Mr Sonneborn, who is from western Germany. He wants to shut down all medium-sized towns in the east and transform the region into a nature reserve. "In fact support for us is increasing because this issue stirs up so much emotion. This is a divided country, almost more so than it was before 1989." That may be a tad exaggerated. But it is true that as Germany gears up to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this November, surveys show that many in the economically depressed east feel like second-class citizens, while westerners resent the billions of euros invested in eastern towns and infrastructure since 1989. "After the Wall came down West Germany simply bought up the east. A lot of easterners lost out after unification, and simply haven't managed to find their footing in this society. Some might say we're using satire to point out these problems," said Mr Sonneborn. While The Party's aim is clearly tongue-in-cheek, Mr Sonneborn insists that Germany's political system seriously needs a healthy dose of satire, especially after four years under Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom The Party would like to lock inside the eastern "special economic zone". There has indeed been a dearth of lively debate under Mrs Merkel because the two main parties, her conservative Christian Democrats and the centre-left Social Democrats, have been forced to shelve their differences and rule together in an unhappy marriage they both hope will end on Sept 27. Germany is not known for biting satire, and its political scene has been staid for decades - deliberately so, some say, after the turmoil of the Nazi period. To many, The Party with its provocative stunts is a breath of fresh air. There can be no doubt that it is a bona fide party - it has an executive board, regional associations in nine of Germany's 16 states, and a serious-sounding manifesto that demands equal rights for all, health and labour market reforms, more referenda and environmental protection. It even has a youth organisation, the eyebrow-raising "Hintner Youth", named after its general secretary, Thomas Hintner. It has taken part in a number of elections and in 2005 got 0.4 per cent of the vote in Berlin. In one local election it scored 4.8 per cent in the western Berlin district of Neukölln. Mr Sonneborn, who wants to dismantle the painstakingly rebuilt Frauenkirche church in the eastern city of Dresden and use the bricks for his new Wall, said he was astonished to learn that about a quarter of The Party's 6,000 members live in the east. Mr Sonneborn believes The Party is now paying the price for having made enemies among senior conservative politicians in recent years. One stunt in particular - selling airtime on its political TV broadcasts to an advertiser during the 2005 election campaign - angered many. He makes no secret of his disdain for Mrs Merkel and claims the chancellor, who grew up in East Germany, is putting the finishing touches to a communist plot she has been hatching ever since 1989 - to nationalise the entire German economy. "She may be popular abroad but it's easy to look good abroad - when we took a delegation of 25 people to Georgia and got on the evening news there we looked good too - it's not that hard," Mr Sonneborn said. He said he was confident the federal returning officer, Roderich Egeler, will be forced to reverse his election ban on The Party in a court hearing in August. But Mr Egeler showed this month he has little patience for parties of questionable seriousness. In addition to The Party, he barred the Smokers Party and the Anarchic Pogo Party, which wants to abolish mandatory schooling, legalise drugs and introduce "fully paid unemployment". dcrossland@thenational.ae