In a direct vote, Green Party members have selected nominees for Germany's 2013 federal election. As expected, a top-ranking member, Jürgen Trittin, earned the nomination, but so did Katrin Göring-Eckardt in an upset.
Many expected to see Jürgen Trittin in the running. The Green Party's co-chair in the German parliament has a strong reputation within the party. And the 58-year-old former environment minister received the most votes of anyone at 72 percent.
Right from the beginning, Trittin had said he sought the nomination for next year's federal election. "It's an honor and a major commitment," Trittin said, adding, "Now it's about getting rid of the worst federal government of all time."
However, a surprise came with the party base's support for Katrin Göring-Eckardt, who has served in parliament for 14 years and serves as its vice president. The 46-year-old chairs the synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany and is known for her gentle manner. She defeated popular female challengers, like party head Claudia Roth and the other co-chair of the parliamentary group, Renate Künast.
"That wasn't the result that I would have regarded as most probable," said the party's chief secretary Steffi Lemke. "But the Greens are always good for a surprise."
No go for Roth
Observers considered Claudia Roth a favorite, but she ended up squarely defeated, in third place among the roster of women. It marks a setback for the assertive party head, who is much better known to the German public than Göring-Eckardt.
"That's democracy," Roth said of the results. She has held the office of party head for longer than anyone in the history of the Green Party.
Despite the lack of votes, Roth on Monday confirmed her plans to remain in the running for re-election to her current post at a party convention slated for November 16.
A balanced duo
The direct vote shows that the base wants to see both major currents within the party represented in the federal election campaign. Trittin stands for left-leaning Greens, whereas Göring-Eckardt is favored by more moderate members.
"The base selected a balance between these two sides," commented party insider Lemke.
But the newly-nominated Göring-Eckardt disagrees, saying the many new Greens have little concern for the balance of the party's two wings.
"It was about achieving a balance and a mix in the top team with respect to background and political biographies," she said.
Göring-Eckard was born in former East Germany, while Trittin, 12 years her senior, hails from the West. Trittin's central issues are energy, environment and financial policy, and Göring-Eckardt focuses more heavily on social issues.
The DIY party
The Green Party is the first in Germany to let its members select the two top candidates to run in a federal election, and many have celebrated the move as a major success. Party leaders have observed increased mobilization and motivation among party members as a result. Around 60 percent of Greens in Germany returned the nomination ballots, and counting the roughly 35,000 votes took a week.
"With the Social Democrats, you had just three people nominate their top candidate, Peer Steinbrück," complained Jürgen Trittin after his selection by direct vote.
"We can definitely encourage other parties to copy this procedure," said Steffi Lemke.
However, it was necessity that led to the direct voting initiative. Party leaders could not come to an agreement as to which member should lead the re-election charge, given the many influential challengers. Instead of letting things dissolve into a fight, the direct vote was used.
Marketed cleverly to the media, the voting scheme had the positive side effect of securing big publicity for the party, which presented itself as innovative and transparent. It's an identity that the Pirate Party has sought to take on in the recent past, as well.
Seeking a coalition with the SPD
In the 2013 federal election, the Green Party hopes to join with the Social Democrats (SPD) to dissolve the government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The last election brought the Greens 10.7 percent of the vote nationally, and they believe they can improve upon that figure.
Successes in recent months would support that theory. The party recently saw a big win in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, where Green politician Winfried Kretschmann has served as state premier since 2011.
"The CDU can be beaten with a strong Green Party and cooperation with the SPD," remarked Jürgen Trittin.
When it comes to which issues he and Katrin Göring Eckardt will prioritize in their platform, the party members will get to decide once more by direct vote.
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