September 18, 2011 / 6:29 PM / 8 years ago

Pirates shame mainstream to sail into Berlin assembly

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s “Pirates,” a kooky band of campaigners for personal liberty, won 8.5 percent of votes in an election in Berlin on Sunday, humiliating major parties such as the Free Democrats, junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.

The Pirates, formed in Sweden 2006, polled more than four times as many votes as the Free Democrats (FDP), according to initial election results, to take their first seats in a German state assembly.

The FDP meanwhile saw its vote slump to just 2 percent from a previous 7.6 percent and lost its seats after missing the 5 percent threshold. The Social Democrats, led by charismatic mayor Klaus Wowereit, won the highest share of the vote.

“This is all very new for us,” the Pirates’ main candidate, 33-year-old Andreas Baum, told German television.

“We will need to prepare, get into the swing of things, but you will be hearing from us — you can be sure of that.”

At party headquarters elated members hugged and cheered.

The Pirates’ anti-establishment gait and witty election campaign won them admiration among younger voters, particularly in the German capital, a hub for information technology startups with a youthful and creative population.

“Why am I hanging here, you aren’t going to bother voting anyway,” read the slogan on one of the Pirates’ posters.

The movement emerged in Sweden five years ago to campaign for free downloads of film and music from the Internet and for greater personal data protection.

When the German branch was founded, it was seen by some as a group for computer nerds, but membership swelled to 12,000 nationwide and the party won dozens of seats in local councils.

The Pirates espouse “liquid democracy,” a system whereby members determine many policies by direct online voting, and they have broadened their agenda to issues such as establishing a minimum wage.

Some of their more eccentric platforms include calling for the decriminalisation of riding without a ticket on public transport and legalising marijuana.

Critics say the party is difficult to take seriously, and that their support stems only from protest votes.

The Pirates respond by pointing to the success of the Greens, who also started out as an single-issue environmental party in the 1980s and were portrayed as tree-hugging hippies, only to become a partner in the federal government from 1998-2005.

“We are not just a protest party. We have legitimate goals and are speaking for a new generation, socialised through the Internet,” said Christopher Lauer, another Pirates candidate.

Reporting by Alexandra Hudson

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