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How the German electoral system works

The system by which Germany selects the members of the country’s parliament, the Bundestag, is vastly different to the electoral process in the UK. In fact, it’s so complicated that many Germans cannot make head nor tail of it. The current German electoral system was adopted following a ruling in 2009 that the previous system was unconstitutional.

In the new system, every voter gets two votes. Vote number 1 allows voters to select the candidate of choice in their district.

Vote number 2 is cast for the party that the voter supports. Every candidate who wins in one of the country’s 299 districts (based on vote number 1) automatically gets a seat. The rest of the base number of 598 seats are allocated by reference on the percentage of votes received nationally (vote number 2), which ultimately decides the make-up of the Bundestag.

Parties need to get more than 5% of the votes to send representatives to Berlin based on vote number 2. The 5% threshold is intended to prevent fragmentation and does a nice job of preventing extremist parties like the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) from entering parliament. The representatives that enter the Bundestag because of

vote number 2 come from the parties’ chosen list of candidates.

People don’t always cast both their two votes for the same party. They may be voting tactically to ensure the presence of a second party in government to prevent single party dominance. This caused a problem under the old system, as it skewed the political make up of parliament. The new electoral system avoids this by something called Ausgleichsmandat, which ensures that the number of seats each party has in parliament is consistent with the proportion of second votes received. To achieve this balance, so called levelling seats are handed out to the parties. Theoretically this could result in the Bundestag having 800 members.

 The Chancellor is selected by a secret ballot of Bundestag members. The ruling party needs 50% or more to effectively control policy decisions of Germany and elect the new Chancellor. In the last election, Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU and the CSU parties won more than 40% of the vote and, following an extended period of negotiation, hammered out a deal

with the opposition Social Democrats to create a grand coalition.

German political parties

Currently there are five political parties represented in the Bundestag, whilst a total of fourteen German political parties

have seats in the European Parliament. In this section, we look at the main political parties in Germany.

Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) 

The CDU is Germany’s main conservative party which has provided five out of

eight chancellors that have led the country since 1949 and is highly pro-Europe. Angela Merkel became leader of the

party in 2000. At home, she has a reputation for sitting on the fence and not making decisions, but in such a way Mrs

Merkel seems to have rather neatly avoided any political controversies.

Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)

The SDP is the country’s oldest political party. It is a centre-left platform that

traditionally represents the interests of the working classes and has been campaigning on a program of greater fairness and society unity. The SPD champions civil rights, social welfare and integration within the EU. Leader Martin Schulz was the President of the European Parliament from 2012 to 2017, but stood down to become the SPD candidate for

the German Chancellorship.

Die Linke (LINKE)

Formed by the 2007 merger of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and a group of disgruntled SPD members. It is a strong left-wing platform that supports increased government spending, higher corporation tax and would like to see NATO disbanded.

Green Party (GRUNE)

The Green Party was formed in the 1970s as a voice for pacifism and environmental action which went on to win its first parliamentary seats in 1983, after gaining 5.6% of the vote. The party is backed by higher income households in urban areas. In 2011, GRUNE ended six decades of conservative rule in one of Germany’s richest states, which suggested that the transformation from protest party to the mainstream was complete.

Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU)

The CSU is a staunchly conservative mainly Catholic movement that serves as the sister party to the larger CDU. The CSU shares power with the Chancellor’s party at the national level, but was highly critical of the country’s financial support to Greece.

Free Democratic Party (FDP) – A pro-business party that promotes the free market economy and individual liberty. The FDP has been plagued with infighting and had a poor showing in last year’s regional elections, which means there is no certainty that the party can get more than the 5% threshold in the federal election.

Alternative for Germany (AfD)

A far right party which takes an anti-immigrant slant which enjoyed an unprecedented surge in popularity in the 2016 regional elections. The AfD is predicted to win 8% or more of the votes at the federal election and looks set to become Germany’s third largest political party. The AfD won seven seats in the European parliament on an anti-Euro ticket, but since then five of those MEPs have defected from the party.

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