• Germany's news in English

Whiff of foul play in Cologne mayoral election

Jörg Luyken · 3 Sep 2015, 16:08

Published: 03 Sep 2015 12:49 GMT+02:00
Updated: 03 Sep 2015 16:08 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

On Wednesday evening Cologne's electoral commission declared 53,000 postal votes for the upcoming mayoral election invalid and ordered that the vote be delayed until 27th September, reports the Rheinische Post.

The commission justified the decision by saying that postal voters now didn't have time to send in new slips before the planned 13th September election.

The decision is set to cost the city €1 million. But much more seriously it has called into question the transparency of the electoral process, as accusations have emerged that the SPD, Germany's largest centre-left party, sought to deliberately manipulate the results.

Font size dispute

The extraordinary episode came about when party names were printed in a much larger font on voting slips than names of candidates - a fact the electoral commission felt disadvantaged independent candidates.

Blame would appear to lie with Agnes Klein of the left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD), who is in charge of the election and who allowed the voting slips to be sent out.

Pertinent to the controversy is the fact that the error clearly benefits Klein's party colleague Jochen Ott.

While Ott is standing for SPD, his rival Henriette Reker who is backed by a coalition of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) is officially running as an independent.

That means that while Ott has a big fat SPD next to his name, Reker's name, in her own words "can't be read without glasses."

The offending voting slip with party names in large print. Source: Bezirksregierung Köln

Germany's chaos city

Cologne, along with Hamburg, Berlin and Munich is one of four cities in Germany with a population over a million. But unlike the other metropolises of the Federal Republic it has no clear political leaning. Ever since the war power has swung from right to left and back again.

The great CDU politician Konrad Adenauer held the post of mayor immediately after the war before becoming Chancellor of West Germany. After several decades in the wilderness, the CDU retook the office in 1999 before losing it to current incumbent Jürgen Roters of the SPD in 2009.

With elections often tight, electoral mishaps are nothing new. The Süddeutsche Zeiting reports that electoral mismanagement is so well established in the city that it has come to be know as Germany's 'chaos city.'

As recently as last year votes were miscounted in the district of Rodenkirchen leading to the SPD taking power in the borough council.

After the CDU complained, a recount put them back in power and Klein's predecessor Guido Kahlen also of the SPD, lost his job in May after an inquiry into the incident.

Posters for the two main cadidates Jochen Ott and Henriette Reker. Photo: DPA

Dirty tricks?

While the CDU have remained dominant in German politics at the national level for over a decade, the only place where they SPD have managed to eat away at their rival's support has been at the municipal level.

Some of the SPD's opponents are now suggesting that that they have employed dirty tricks to ensure their party remains in power in Cologne.

Story continues below…

FDP boss in Cologne Yvonne Gebauer asked "How has it come to pass that a manipulative voting slip favoured the candidate who belongs to the same party as the person who was in charge of the elections?“ reports express.de.

Meanwhile, the head of the CDU in the city, Bernd Petelkau, described the incident as "unbelievable amateurishness and an attack on democratic values.“

But SPD mayoral candidate Ott has been quick to distance himself from the fiasco describing himself as "really hacked off" 

"I've been running around all day long trying to get my ideas heard. It shouldn't be too hard to organize an election by the rules. I was given an advantage on the voting slip that I absolutely don't want."

Klein herself told the Rheinische Post she hoped that, while citizens yet to cast their vote would be provided with new slips, the 53,000 postal votes would still be counted "for the sake of limiting the damage."

Agnes Klein (SPD) is in charge of the mayoral elections. Photo: DPA

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jörg Luyken (joerg.luyken@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd