Lee Heidhues 2.17.2023
Berlin politics are messy and chaotic.
It is a major city where elections are chaotic and tenants stand up for their rights.
Refusal by the Socialist Party (SPD) incumbent Mayor Franziska Giffey to follow the will of the voters who want expropriation of major Berlin landlords has completely disrupted the political status quo.
Excerpted from The Nation 2.17.2023
BERLIN—An unprecedented do-over election here last Sunday, February 12, put the notoriously left-wing German capital on the precipice of conservative government for the first time in two decades.
While the city of Berlin was never viewed as the paragon of German efficiency, the 2021 election mess is still remarkable: polling sites without enough ballots, or with the wrong ones; hours-long lines that delayed voting into the night; a marathon race on polling day that blocked traffic across the capital.
While the election hiccups are one obvious reason for discontent, another equally troubling issue is Mayor Franziska Giffey’s pointed refusal to take action in response to a historic 2021 referendum that saw 59.1 percent of voters endorse expropriating major landlords in the city to order to increase the supply of publicly-held housing.
The revote for state and municipal government—ordered by the state’s constitutional court after widespread mishandling of the September 2021 polls—saw support for the Social Democrats (SPD) plummet, while the rival Christian Democrats (CDU) surged more than 10 percent to 28.2 percent to take the clear lead among parties.
“Berlin chose change,” proclaimed Kai Wegner, the CDU’s top candidate—albeit a bit prematurely.
While negotiations may still return the Red-Red-Green coalition of the SPD, the Green party and the Left party to power with a narrow majority, the results signal deep discontent among Berliners about the direction of the city under SPD Mayor Franziska Giffey. Support for her party fell to 18.4 percent—its lowest since German reunification—putting them in a practical tie for second place with the Greens, while the Left party maintained its traditional base of support, with 12.2 percent.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) also maintained its appeal among a small swath of voters in the latest poll with 9.1 percent support, despite having almost no chance of entering government. Complex negotiations could take up to six weeks before party leaders agree on a coalition arrangement.
Support for the successful campaign “Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen” (Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen and Co.), which I covered for The Nation, cut across many social groups outside the traditional hard left, including many SPD voters. No wonder, in the face of a housing crisis and indifferent leadership, 68 percent of Berliners recently reported that their trust in political institutions had declined.
When the Constitutional Court finally threw out the results more than a year after the botched vote, SPD leadership failed to take ownership of the situation, giving an easy attack line to the opposition on the right who claimed that the city was poorly run. Wegner and other CDU politicians engaged in dog-whistle politics connecting the narrative of urban mismanagement by City Hall to crime and disorder in the streets, especially after New Year’s Eve “riots” in several immigrant-heavy neighborhoods.
Top photo – Brandenburg Gate-Berlin. Reunification Day 2018. Photo-Lee Heidhues