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Germany parliamentary democracy in the years 1900

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In the period 1900-1914, Germany’s political landscape witnessed extraordinary changes in which typical features associated with a parliamentary democracy- such as significant and influential pressure group activity and universal suffrage- were present. It can however be argued that this period also represented a time in which the German Reichstag did not truly represent the population due to old and corrupt voting system for Prussia which saw votes unfairly given and the role of all the chancellors- in particular Von Bulow- during this time, which saw unelected officials yielding greater influence than that of the Reichstag. Germany was a parliamentary democracy due to the many contrasting features of the political system. Germany may have had many features where a “parliamentary democracy” can be boasted, but there are also just as many contrasting points which expose the system as being corrupt and broken.

One of the most significant points in favour of Germany being a parliamentary democracy is the fact that it practiced universal suffrage. Following the unification of Germany in January 1871, Bismarck introduced universal male suffrage for elections to the Imperial Parliament called the Reichstag, which were conducted through the use of a secret ballot. This is an example of Germany acting as a parliamentary democracy because it allowed people of all classes to vote, meaning that everyone in society had the opportunity to be able to be represented. The use of the secret ballot also helps to enhance the argument that Germany was a parliamentary democracy due to the fact that it allowed the electorate to cast their vote without fear of being persecuted for their choice.

This system of voting, coupled with the fact that all males over 25 had the right to vote, emphasis the perceived idea of freedom and choice which the German people were offered at this time, Germany stood out against its European opponents due to the fact that voting was not restricted to those of a higher social class, and it was the belief that political parties could work more effectively in this way due to the fact that they needed to have appeal to a wide cross section of society, instead of just the wealthy. There is however an argument for the fact that universal suffrage was not as dramatic as it first appeared. It can be argued that this significant development, which seemed to mark a new step towards liberalism was actually inadequate. Bismarck is known to have wanted the cooperation of the Reichstag in matters relating to passing legislation, yet denied the Reichstag the status and importance of its counterparts in order to restrict their influence.

Bismarck knew that introducing the idea of universal suffrage would project the idea of parliamentary democracy and preserve stability within the newly unified Germany, yet was also aware that the Reichstag was an assembly, which lacked any real power. It can therefore be said that this “universal suffrage” was in fact a decoy created by Bismarck in order to hide the true, doctoral nature of the German political system. If the purpose of introducing universal suffrage is to act as an mask for the elitist, un representative political system, then it cannot be said that this represents Germany as a parliamentary democracy, when the aim of it is in fact the complete opposite. Germany’s corrupt political system is able emphasis the idea that it was not a parliamentary democracy.

This is seen in regards to the Prussian three class franchise voting system which was introduced by Wilhelm IV in 1849 and not abolished until 1918. While the voting system was mostly associated with Prussia, it was also practiced Brunswick, Waldeck and Saxony. All males over the age of 24 were eligible to vote, yet they were divided into 3 classes, based on how much direct tax they paid. The first class contained the wealthiest people, who paid the most amount of tax, with the second class containing those on an lower income, and finally the third class housing the poorest sections of society, having those who paid little to no tax at all. These different classes all contained a varied amount of people, although the amount of representatives- known as electors- remained the same for each section.

This allowed for the first class vote to have as much as 17.5% more influence than that of a vote from the third class. This clearly exposes Germany as not being a parliamentary democracy due to the fact that the poorer sections of society are very likely to have their vote and opinions drowned out by the greatly influential wealthy voters, which would consequently mean that the political party elected would never attempt to serve their needs, and instead just concentrate the higher classes, as that is where their vote originates from. These elections were also done in public, with no secret ballot being available which meant many of those opposing the popular first class and conservative parties could have felt intimidated by casting an opposing vote forward.

The elections originating from Prussia were able to effectively showcase how backward and restrictive certain areas of Germany were, with little to no freedom being available for the poorer classes to have their voice heard. Prussia was the largest state within Germany and thus had a significant position within the country, with the corruption from this state having an huge effect on the makeup of the Reichstag. Chancellor Bethmann Hollwegs attempts to reform the corrupt system in 1917 can be seen as an example of parliamentary democracy in action due to the fact that the executive were reacting to the public’s dissatisfaction, however Kaiser Wilhelm II attempts to water down the reform by not setting a particular date or plan for change only angered the public further, with the three class franchise remaining in place until the German revolution of 1919-thus showing that parliamentary democracy remained very ineffective within Germany.

The voting system within Prussian also allowed for a large amount of votes being incredibly unfair. In 1908, Prussian conservatives won 16% votes and 212 seats, yet the Social Democrat Party achieved 23% of votes and just 7 seats. This is significant in revealing how undemocratic Germany could still be due to the fact that the true opinion of the electorate was clearly not being accurately represented in favour of preserving conservative politicians rule. Parliamentary democracy can be seen to have been significant within Germany between 1900-1914 due to the wide range and variety of political parties, which operated at this time.

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