facebook linkedin twitter

Two Votes and Coalition Talks: How the German Election Works

September 20, 2021by Geir Moulson, Associated Press
This Oct. 22, 2013 photo shows a general view of the German Federal Parliament, Bundestag in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN (AP) — German voters elect a new parliament on Sept. 26, a vote that will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16 years in power.

While it should be clear within hours of the polls closing how the parties fared, it may take longer to find out who the next chancellor will be — and what the political complexion of his or her government will be. Here’s a look at how the process works.

WHO CAN VOTE, AND WHEN?

German citizens age 18 and above are entitled to vote and to be elected. About 60.4 million people in the nation of 83 million are eligible to vote, about 2.8 million of them for the first time. 

Polls open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (0600 GMT-1600 GMT) on Sunday. Postal votes are possible for several weeks before the election, and must arrive by the time polls close on election day. All the votes should be counted by Monday morning.

WHO DO GERMANS VOTE FOR?

Sunday’s vote will decide who sits in the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, which will then elect the chancellor. The Bundestag is elected for a four-year term.

Every voter gets two votes: one for a directly elected candidate, the other for a party list. 

Each of the country’s 299 constituencies directly elects a lawmaker by a simple majority. At least 299 further seats go to candidates elected on party lists. That vote is critical because it determines the percentage of seats each party wins.

If a party wins more seats via the direct vote than it would get under the party vote, it keeps the extra seats — but the system also adds seats for other parties to ensure the proportional vote is reflected accurately. 

Because Germany’s traditional big parties have continued to dominate the direct vote even as their overall support has shrunk, that can result in the Bundestag having many more lawmakers than the minimum 598; the outgoing lower house had a record 709. A slight tweak this time to reduce the number of extra seats isn’t expected to prevent it getting even bigger.

To share in the division of seats, a party must win 5% of the party list vote or have at least three directly elected lawmakers.

WHICH ARE THE MAIN PARTIES?

There are 47 parties running in the election, but few have realistic hopes of crossing the 5% threshold.

The biggest group in the outgoing parliament was the center-right Union bloc, made up of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union. The center-left Social Democrats, the other traditional big party, were the second-largest.

Also represented were the far-right Alternative for Germany, which entered the Bundestag for the first time in 2017; the pro-business Free Democrats, the hard-left Left Party and the environmentalist Greens. 

WHO GETS TO RUN GERMANY?

Germany’s electoral system produces coalition governments. Polls suggest that no one party will come anywhere remotely near a parliamentary majority this time. The country has no tradition of minority governments.

Three parties have fielded candidates to be chancellor: Armin Laschet for the Union, Olaf Scholz for the Social Democrats, and Annalena Baerbock for the Greens, who is making her party’s first bid for the top job.

The election results will show what coalitions are mathematically possible, then party leaders will discuss what is politically possible. The party that finishes first typically has an advantage, but could end up in opposition if others put together a coalition without it. 

One thing is pretty much certain: Alternative for Germany won’t be part of the next government. All other parties say they won’t work with it.

HOW LONG COULD IT TAKE?

The process can take weeks or months, and recent polls suggest that it’s likely to be complicated this time. Negotiations typically produce a detailed coalition agreement, which needs approval in votes by party congresses or even a ballot of one or more parties’ entire membership. 

Once a coalition is ready, Germany’s president nominates to the Bundestag a candidate for chancellor, who needs a majority of all members to be elected. That person typically is, but doesn’t have to be, a member of parliament. Until a new government is in place, the old one stays on in a caretaker capacity.

The outgoing coalition of Merkel’s Union with the Social Democrats holds the record for the time taken to form a government, after an attempt to form an alternative alliance collapsed. The Bundestag elected Merkel for her fourth term on March 14, 2018 — nearly six months after German voters had their say on Sept. 24, 2017.

If two attempts to elect a chancellor with a majority fail, the constitution allows for the president to appoint the candidate who wins the most votes in a third vote as chancellor or to dissolve the Bundestag and hold a new national election. That has never yet happened.

International

October 20, 2021
by Kate Michael
Experts Fear Travel Restrictions Have Unintended Consequences for Diplomacy

WASHINGTON — Early advice from the World Health Organization warned against imposing travel or trade restrictions on countries experiencing COVID-19... Read More

WASHINGTON — Early advice from the World Health Organization warned against imposing travel or trade restrictions on countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. Now experts fear the decision by most countries to ignore this advice may have unintended consequences for the future of global mobilization and diplomacy. “The... Read More

Panda Cubs at Tokyo Zoo Get Their Names

TOKYO (AP) — Giant panda twins born at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo in June got their names Friday — Lei Lei... Read More

TOKYO (AP) — Giant panda twins born at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo in June got their names Friday — Lei Lei for the female cub, and Xiao Xiao for her brother. They were chosen from hundreds of thousands of suggestions sent from fans around Japan. The twin... Read More

October 6, 2021
by Alexa Hornbeck
WHO Launches New Program and Targets for Preventing Maternal Deaths

The World Health Organization held a webinar this week to discuss how to prevent maternal deaths. Globally, roughly 295,000 women... Read More

The World Health Organization held a webinar this week to discuss how to prevent maternal deaths. Globally, roughly 295,000 women die each year due to complications during childbirth. Between 2000 and 2017, the average annual rate of reduction in global maternal mortality was 2.9%, which is... Read More

Tensions Flare as Chinese Flights Near Taiwan Intensify

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — With record numbers of military flights near Taiwan over the last week, China has been showing... Read More

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — With record numbers of military flights near Taiwan over the last week, China has been showing a new intensity and military sophistication as it steps up its harassment of the island it claims as its own and asserts its territorial ambitions in... Read More

October 5, 2021
by Victoria Turner
State Dept. Unveils Partnership to Combat Infrastructure Investment Corruption

The U.S. Department of State has partnered with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development with the goal of reducing... Read More

The U.S. Department of State has partnered with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development with the goal of reducing the risk of corruption in infrastructure investment by bolstering the ability of stakeholders to implement anti-corruption systems across economies.  The joint project entitled, “Connecting the Dots:... Read More

October 2, 2021
by Dan McCue
Tired of Endless Election Cycles? Perhaps the Dominican Republic Has The Answer

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Political candidates, parties, independent policy groups and their members and supporters in this island nation... Read More

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Political candidates, parties, independent policy groups and their members and supporters in this island nation all got a stiff warning recently -- if they campaign outside the prescribed times for that activity they will face fines and ejection from the ballot.... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top