Germany's complicated elections explained

6th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

6 September, BERLIN - Elections for the German parliament's lower house, the Bundestag, take place under an awkwardly named "mixed member proportional representation system".

6 September

BERLIN - Elections for the German parliament's lower house, the Bundestag, take place under an awkwardly named "mixed member proportional representation system".

Here's what this means:

Each of the 62 million Germans over the age of 18 is eligible to vote and has two ballots, known as the first and second vote.

The Bundestag will have at least 598 members. Half of them are directly elected on a first-past-the-post basis in 299 electoral districts. The candidate gaining a relative majority - or plurality - is elected. These seats are referred to as "direct mandates".

The second vote goes to the party list of Germany's 16 federal states. This vote is the more important of the two ballots for the final national outcome: it decides on the basis of proportional representation (PR) how remaining seats are distributed.

This is the complicated part of German elections.

A party must, in general, secure at least 5 per cent of the second ballot votes in order to win seats in the Bundestag.

But there is an important exception to this rule. Parties gaining at least three direct mandates are also given extra seats under their allocation of second PR ballots, even if they have less than 5 per cent of the total vote.

A further often confusing element of German elections are "ueberhangmandaten" or overhang seats. A party which wins more direct mandate seats, for example 35, than proportional seats, say 32, would be entitled to a bonus of three extra overhang seats.

A party with overhang seats has more seats in the Bundestag than it would have under a strictly proportional system - there are thus generally more than the standard number of 598 members in parliament.

Following the 2002 elections, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic-led government was able to retain power on the basis of four such overhang seats.

In 1994, these seats were also significant in boosting the majority enjoyed by Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrat-led government to 10 from two.

Voters are allowed to "split" their two votes.

Those favouring a particular two-party coalition - the general pattern of German politics - can cast their first vote for an individual member of one party and their second for another party.

Electing members of the Bundestag is one of the few direct chances German citizens have to get their say on what goes on in Berlin.

The German chancellor is not directly elected. Following the September 18 election, the new Bundestag will meet and its deputies will vote on the new head of government.

Germany's upper chamber, the Bundesrat, is also not directly elected and consists of members or representatives sent directly by governments of the country's 16 states.

There is also no direct election of Germany's federal president, the mainly ceremonial head of state.

Germany's constitution has no provisions for referendums. This is why German voters were never asked to vote on the European Union constitution which was rejected earlier this year by French and Dutch voters. 


Subject: German news

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