Hidden Crisis of Democracy – 01

Status quo.

In our ‘Western’ culture we are proud of democracy.

What is democracy?

Democracy is of Greek origin as a word and combines two nouns δῆμος (dēmos, meaning in this context ‘people with citizenship’), and Κράτος (the god Kratos, meaning Power). One might call it ‘Citizenpower’.

The German Grundgesetz has a nice way to put this in political terms.

‘Alle Macht geht vom Volke aus’ (engl. ‘All Power emenates from the people’), where people means elective citizens, not inhabitants in general, so a buerocratic understanding of the term people.

But how true is our own demoracy?

In Germany we have a parliamentary democratic system with many layers from municipal parliament, county parliament, province parliament, up to the Bundestag and the Bundesrat as sort of balance to the Bundestag, summarizing the power a party has in the province parliamant. This is extended with the European parliament by now. The election of our head of state is very complicated, due to our history but shows the issue in our system most radical. We will come back later to that topic.

Usually there a two votes for every voter each election, one for a personal vote for direct candidates and another for a political party.

Voting is voluntary and for most elections, every adult German may vote. Some municipal elections inlcude non-Germans with constant resident status and sometimes it is allowed for 16 year olds to vote as well, this is for small scale only.

There are usually three types of votes

  • Valid votes
  • Valid votes, but for a candidate or party that gains less than 5% of all valid votes, these are not counted for seats in parliament, with some exceptions.
  • Invalid votes, these are cast out.

The government is elected by the attending members of parliament during an election and needs a 50% majority, or in some parliaments a simple majority may be enough. Lord majors sometimes by direct vote and a 50% majority of all valid votes is needed.

Legal acts need a 50% majority of attending members of parliament, in rare cases that matter a change of constitution a two third majority is needed.

Our government is seperated into the typical three parts:
Legislative | Executive | Judicative. This is not a matter of democracy in general but shows later on it’s implications

So far so good. A little bit complicated (it is German) but it works in general.


Now let us have a look at some results of the latest elections.

The following table shows the results of three province parliament elections in 2012. 1

Elections 2012 SL SH NRW
Turnout 61,6 % 60,1 % 56,9 %
Valid Votes 97,9 % 98,2 % 98,6 %
> 5% threshold 5,6 % 4,6 % 6,9 %
CDU 35,2 % 30,8 % 26,3 %
SPD 30,6 % 30,4 % 39,1 %
FDP   8,2 % 8,6 %
GRÜNE 5,0 % 13,2 % 11,3 %
LINKE 16,1 %    
PIRATEN 7,4 % 8,2 % 7,8 %
SSW   4,6 %  
SUM (only valid) 94,3 % 95,4 % 93,1 %
SUM (all votes) 92,3 % 93,7 % 91,8 %
SUM (elective citizens represented) 53,7 % 53,7 % 48,6 %
Ruling Coalition 35,3 % 25,9 % 24,5 %
Opposition 15,3 % 25,4 % 20,8 %
Elective Citizens 797.512 2.204.500 13.262.049
Inhabitants 1.011.000,0 2.839.000 17.839.000
% of Inhabitants are elective 78,9 % 77,7 % 74,3 %
% Represented Inhabitans 42,3 % 41,7 % 36,2 %
% Ruling Coalition / Inhabitants 27,9 % 20,1 % 18,2 %



The figures for the SL (Saarland) are the most easy to read. We have about 1.0 Mio. inhabitants, nearly 0.8 Mio inhabitans may vote. So this is something we need to accept, a baby cannot vote, nonetheless are bills and rules valid no matter what, so ~80% of the citizens are in power, ~20% are not, it is worse for other provinces.

The SL now has a ‘Great Coalition’ of the two greatest parties, CDU and SPD. Together these represent 65.8%, so about a two-third majority in the parliament.

But if we take consider, that many votes have been technical valid, but are not taken into account and a small amount of votes have been invalid, we get from 65.8% from a full 100.0% of all voters down to a 92.3 %. So 7.7% of all votes are trash, this is a bigger share that the Grünen or Piraten claim.

But if we go a step further, which is crucial to the claim to represent the people (not the correct and valid votes) and calculate the turnout into this, this claim crumbles even further. It is only 61.6% of al elective citizens did vote at all, nonetheless the ruling coalition claims power at 65.8% of the people. This cannot work well.

So reduced by the turnout, the ruling coalition represents only a mere 35.3% of all elective citizens. Projected onto the complete amount of all inhabitants this governments claims a democratically elected mandate to rule only 27.9% of all inhabitants have actively voted pro this government. The rest against, not at all, or was not allowed to vote.

This is not what democracy is meant to be.


In SH (Schleswig-Holstein) we have a similar situation, but a less strong ruling coalition of SPD, GRüne and the SSW2. Here we get just above the 25% mark to represent the ruling coalition in relation to all elective citizens.


And the worst of this, take a look at the NRW (Northrhine-Westfalia) column, and we drop to 18.2% that legitimated actively the active government of SPD and Grüne. This election was neccessary after the parliament dissolved itself and the previous ‘Minority Government’ of SPD, Grüne, tolerated by the LINKE took a new start. Alone the word ‘Minority Government’ seems to bit a huge understatement.
The sum of all elective citizens represented in the current parliament of NRW drops below the magic 50% mark. So even if all parties would act together with an anonimous vote, they still would not represent the majority of all they should represent. This is not a minority government any more. It is a minority parliament by now.

1 Sources: SL = Saarland:
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saarland, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landtagswahl_im_Saarland_2012
SH = Schleswig-Holstein:
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schleswig-Holstein, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landtagswahl_in_Schleswig-Holstein_2012, http://www.schleswig-holstein.de/LWL/DE/Landtagswahl/Ergebnis_LT/uebersicht3__blob=publicationFile.pdf, http://www.schleswig-holstein.de/LWL/DE/Landtagswahl/Ergebnis_LT/uebersicht4__blob=publicationFile.pdf – to calculate the invalid votes, the average was used. Some cross calculations from were needed to get all values, so there might be a deviation of ±1-2% due to different precision and age of the data.
NRW = Northrhine-Westfalia:
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordrhein-Westfalen, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landtagswahl_in_Nordrhein-Westfalen_2012

2 The SSW (Südschleswigsche Wählerverbund) is a party to represent the Danish minority, which is excepted from the 5% threshhold, due to a bilateral contract between the FRG and Denmark.