German Elections 2021: A Simple Voting Guide Ending the Merkel Era


image sourceGetty Images
caption imageCDU leader Armin Laschet (R) is Angela Merkel’s favored successor, but his lead has fallen in party polls

The Germans are voting in a month in the parliamentary elections that mark the end of Angela Merkel’s 16-year term.

For the first time in 15 years, a public opinion poll this week gave the center-left an advantage over the outgoing chancellor’s conservatives. But one thing is clear, whoever wins will have to form a coalition. The three parties currently believe they could secure enough seats in parliament to do so and elect the next chancellor.

So how will the German elections work?

What is being voted for?

On Sunday, September 26, the Germans will elect the lower house of the federal parliament, the Bundestag. Although personal voting takes place on the day, voting by mail has already begun. About 60.4 million Germans over the age of 18 have the right to vote.

The Bundestag consists of at least 598 seats, and usually more.

Although the winning party becomes clear at night, the composition of the next government will be known only when the winner manages to form an absolute majority in parliament with one or two more parties. So the next chancellor will not be known immediately.

How is a chancellor elected?

Usually, the coalition party with the most seats elects a chancellor. But building a coalition takes time because the parties must reach a common language and negotiate the appointment of ministers.

After reaching an agreement, members of the newly elected parliament vote in favor of the new chancellor.

Which political parties are in conflict?

Recent opinion polls show that the three main parties are vying to win enough space to run a coalition government and elect the next chancellor.

Christian-Democratic Union

  • Ms. Merkel’s conservative CDU has dominated German politics for decades along with its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union.
image sourceReuters
caption imageArmin Laschet was seen laughing during a visit to Erftstadt after the city was devastated by floods
  • CDU leader Armin Laschet he would be Ms. Merkel’s natural successor, but he struggled to win over voters, especially after he was imagined laughing during a visit to a flood-hit city in July. Bavarian leader Markus Söder is more popular, but it is unlikely that a conservative rival will hand him the candidacy.
  • The center-left SPD has been in a coalition with the Conservatives and is running the election with them. This week, a poll put the party ahead of the CDU for the first time in 15 years
image sourceWELL
caption imageRecently, Mr. Scholz’s party smoldered in third place in the polls
  • Olaf Scholz, The German finance minister, is the party ‘s candidate for chancellor and now has a real chance of winning.
  • The left-wing party focuses on climate change and social justice, leading earlier this year in the elections
image sourceWELL
caption imageAnnalena Baerbock found herself under a series of attacks after the Greens invaded
  • Leader of the Greens Annalena Baerbock she did not yet have a role in government, but could lead her party into a coalition.

Coalitions are known for the colors of the parties. So expect to hear a lot of talk about red-red-green coalitions if the center-left (red) wins, or the Kenya-Jamaica coalitions if the CDU (black) wins.

Other parties that could also run in a coalition government include the Liberal Free Democrats (yellow) and socialist Left (Left). Far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) enjoys strong support in the eastern parts of Germany, but is avoided by major politicians because of its policies.

You can read more about the candidates for rival chancellors here.

How is the winner decided?

When the Germans go to the polls, they get two votes.

The first is voting in the constituency for the election of a local MP. There are 299 constituencies – approximately one MP per 250,000 people. The candidate who wins the most votes in each constituency is guaranteed a seat. This “winner takes everything” system is known as “finish first”, similar to the British parliamentary elections.

The second ballot is based on a different system – proportional representation. The remaining 299 seats are awarded on the basis of the share of votes of each party – and are awarded to candidates on the ranking lists drawn up by each party.

Why is the second ballot decisive?

First, the party must win at least 5% of the second vote to enter the Bundestag. This threshold is designed to prevent small, often radical parties from gaining power.

Then, according to Germany’s mixed electoral system, the composition of parliament must reflect the result of this second vote.

The second ballot therefore determines the percentage of seats each party will get in the Bundestag and its chances of forming a government.

So why does the size of the Bundestag vary?

This is the tricky part. The number of seats in parliament can be increased if there is an imbalance between the results of each party in two votes. Thus leaving the Bundestag does not have 598 seats, it has 709.

image sourceGetty Images
caption imageThe current Bundestag has 730 seats

Consider this hypothetical example:

The CDU wins 110 seats in constituency elections and 100 seats in party elections. In this scenario, the CDU would have 10 seats more than it should, according to its share of important other votes. Sometimes voters support a certain candidate and then choose another party.

Thus, the CDU will retain an additional 10 seats, which are known as “too high mandates”.

However, the CDU now has 10 seats more than it should have, which is an unfair advantage.

In order to equalize the conditions, all other parties were assigned so-called balancing seats. This increases the number of representatives of all other parties on a percentage basis.

In this example, their seats would be increased by 10% of their election results to correct the imbalance.

When will we know the result?

Winners and losers should be clear within hours of closing the vote.

That was the case at the last vote in the Bundestag in 2017, when Angela Merkel gave a dark speech marking the strong results of her party.

But talks on forming a government could take weeks, as in 2017, when an attempt to form a coalition of Jamaica with the CDU (black), Green and FDP (yellow) failed.

More on Angela Merkel’s legacy:

media inscriptionHow Angela Merkel came to power and led Germany

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