Revelation on process of electing Germany’s new Chancellor
Germany, which is Europe’s most populous country, will go to the polls on September 26 to elect members of the lower house of parliament known as the Bundestag. The polls are crucial this time as they will determine who will succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as she steps down after 16 years.
With just a few days left for the German elections, here is everything you need to know about the process.
The polls will open from 8 am to 6 pm on Sunday in 299 electoral districts in the country and all the votes should be counted by Monday morning.
German citizens above 18 years are eligible to cast their vote and about 60.4 million people of the 83 million population are eligible to exercise their franchise this year.
German passport holders, who have lived in the country for at least three months, can also vote. German citizens living abroad are allowed to vote under certain conditions.
Germany’s Basic Law stipulates that its members should be elected in “general, direct, free, equal and secret elections”.
It further states that “the elections are “direct” because citizens vote for their representatives directly without the mediation of delegates to an electoral college.”
Germany’s electoral system is a combination of “first-past-the-post” election of constituency candidates (first votes) and proportional representation on the basis of votes for the parties’ Land lists (second votes).
German citizens do not elect a chancellor directly, but their votes determine the makeup of parliament every four years and the representatives further elect the chancellor.
Each voter in Germany can cast two votes: one for a candidate standing in their constituency, and one for a party list of candidates in their federal state. The first vote decides which candidates are sent to Parliament from the constituencies and the second vote determines the relative strength of the parties represented in the Bundestag.
“Half of the members of the Bundestag are elected directly from Germany’s 299 constituencies, the other half via party lists in Germany’s sixteen Länder (states).”
Each of these 299 constituencies directly elects a lawmaker by a simple majority and the 299 seats go to candidates elected on party lists. That vote is critical because it determines the percentage of seats each party wins.
The Bundestag officially has 598 seats but the size may increase due to “overhang seats” and additional “balance seats”. So, the Bundestag had 709 seats instead of 598 after the 2017 election. The number is increased to ensure that all parties get seats proportional to the second votes.
A political party needs at least 5% of the second vote or at least three constituency seats to enter the Bundestag. This threshold is meant to prevent small parties from entering the parliament.
The high figure between the first and second votes determines a party’s minimum number of seats.
While the second vote determines the proportion of seats a party gets, additional seats may be provided if the party wins more constituency seats in a federal state than they would be entitled to by the second vote.
For example, if a party gets 15 seats through the second vote but had 20 candidates elected in the first vote, then it would get five extra seats in the Bundestag.
Out of the 47 parties listed on the ballot sheet, three leading parties are: the Centre-right Christian Democrats, the Centre-left Social Democrats, and the Greens.
The center-right Union bloc Christian Democratic Union was the biggest group in the outgoing parliament and it consisted of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union.
The centre-left Social Democratic Party has been in coalition with the conservatives and is the second largest group.
The left-wing party Greens was leading the polls earlier this year and the party focuses on social justice and climate change.
“A government can only be formed by parties that, singly or together with others, have the majority of members behind them. This is why elections are often followed by coalition negotiations between the parties.”
As mentioned earlier, German citizens do not directly elect the Chancellor but they elect the federal officials who then pick the next chancellor.
Typically, the coalition party with the most seats picks the chancellor.
Once a coalition is decided upon, the German President nominates to the Bundestag a candidate for chancellor. This candidate needs a majority of all members to be elected and doesn’t have to be a member of parliament. The old chancellor continues in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed.
In a rare case, if two attempts to elect a chancellor with a majority fail, the president is allowed to appoint a candidate who has to win the most votes in a third vote or the president may dissolve the Bundestag and hold a new national election. That has never happened yet.
For the first time in the history of Germany, outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel won’t be in the running. She has held Vorpommern-Rügen Vorpommern-Greifswald I constituency continuously since it was created after reunification in 1990
To replace her, three parties have nominated official candidates. The CDU has nominated party leader Armin Laschet, the SPD has named the current finance minister and deputy chancellor, Olaf Scholz and the Greens has put forward its co-leader Annalena Baerbock.
While the results are usually clear within hours of the vote closing, talks on forming a government can take weeks.
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