Youth Takeover in the Bundestag: Who's new, and what to expect
The 2021 German election is no doubt one of the most anticipated political events in Europe in the 21st century. Angela Merkel, one of the longest servings, first female chancellor of Germany, is not contesting for the seat of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a constituent she represents in the Bundestag for more than 3 decades, as well as stepping down as the leader of Christian Democratic Union Party, the CDU/CSU leader in the Bundestag and stepping down as Chancellor of Germany all together after 16 years in power.
The 2021 election means a new chapter for the German political scene in so many senses. This election has successfully elected one of the most diverse, youngest, and feminist parliament yet in German history. Out of 736 seats contested across Germany, 65 MPs are under 30, a significant boost from the last parliament where only 3 MPs are under 30, 83 MPs are with an immigrant background, an increase of 4% female representation from 30% to 34%, and for the first time in history, the German voters elect not one but two trans MPs to the Bundestag.
Although Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrat SPD narrowly won the election with 206 seats in the Bundestag, 44% out of 2.8 million voters who are categorized as first-time voters are voted for either Free Democrats FDP or the Greens, two parties with the most significant number of youth and minorities candidates contested in this year's German election. We can clearly see that a generational shift in German politics is happening; the German voters have sent a strong and loud message to the world, a new Germany is coming.
But one might wonder who's the real winner of this election cycle, yes Olaf Scholz made it to the Chancellery and the SPD gained the largest number of MPs in the Bundestag, but their victory are very narrow. Of all the parties contested in this year's election, the Green Party (Bündnis 90 Die Grünen) led by Deputy Chancellor Robert Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Barebock has significantly boosted their representation in the Bundestag from the last election. Their campaign platform is mostly focused on Environmental protection, tougher Foreign Policy, especially when dealing with Russia and China, and when it comes to Financial policy, the Greens tend to favor a strong state and more spending. With a 5.9% swing from the previous election, The Green Party has the highest political swing this election cycle. The Greens secured an additional 51 MPs, making them the second biggest governing party with 118 seats; 40% MPs are younger than 40, 5% more from their coalition partner, the SPD.
The youngest MP elected to the Bundestag this election cycle is Green's Emilia Fester, a 23 years old college student from Hamburg. Her campaign vision is "As the youngest member of parliament, to do politics for the youth." She believes that anyone interested in politics should be taken seriously and should've never faced age discrimination. She argues that young people need to be accommodated and involved in the political system, and that's why she's actively campaigning to lower the voting age to 16. She's confident that young people have the power to pressure older generation lawmakers to create a significant change in the German political scene, especially in producing laws to tackle climate change.
Another notable newest addition to the Bundestag is 31 years old Muhanad Al-Halak of the FDP. Not only that he's relatively young for a politician, but he's also one of the 83 MPs elected with immigrant background. His family sought refuge from Iraq when he was 11 and settled in the Lower Bavaria district, which he represented in the Bundestag. In an interview, he said that he wants to be a role model for young people and immigrants that anything is possible if you work hard for it, regardless of where you came from, your ethnicity, or which religion you preach.
34 years old Rhie Ye-one is also making history in this year's election. Contesting for the seat of the first constituency of Aachen, Rhie is the first Korean German politician to ever be elected to the Bundestag with 23,8% of votes. She first entered politics in 2005 by joining the SPD while pursuing her degree in Political Science and Communication at RWTH Aachen. Rhie was born and raised in Aachen in 1987 to Korean parents who migrated to Germany in 1986. Before her election to the Bundestag, Rhie was a member of the Aachen city council and deputy chairman of the SPD parliamentary group. In 2015, Rhie was awarded the Helene Weber Prize for her various contributions and commitment to the Aachen local government.
The Bottom Line
Although the representation of youth, women, and minorities in the Bundestag increases compared to the 2017 general election, this number is still low if we compare the German figure with similar democracies in Europe and the western world. One of the reasons why bigger parties like CDU/CSU and SDP support erodes amongst German voters is that they fail to attract younger voters' support and lack campaign promise to address concerns most important to younger generations like climate change and digitalization, just to name a few. But the result of the 2021 election should be a benchmark for the party elites in Berlin in determining party policies and their stands on issues of concern to the younger demographics in Germany, who have a very high probability of becoming the majority voters in the next election. The election and participation of youth, women, and minorities in the 2021 elections can be seen as an opportunity for their participation and role in the upcoming elections.Two questions remains to be answered, first, will we see a dramatic shift in German politics, especially when it comes to foreign,social and economic policies and second, If German major parties like SPD and CDU/CSU are unsuccessful in appealing to younger voters within the next 4 years, will Germany see dominance from smaller parties like the FDP and Green in the next election?