The German electoral process explained: How does the European economic power elect its chancellor?



Europe’s most populous country, Germany, will go to the polls on September 26 to elect members of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag. The polls are crucial this time around as they will determine who succeeds Chancellor Angela Merkel as she steps down after 16 years.

A few days before the German election, here’s everything you need to know about the process.


Polling stations will open Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in 299 electoral districts across the country and all votes are expected to be counted by Monday morning.


German citizens over the age of 18 can vote and around 60.4 million of the 83 million inhabitants can exercise their right to vote 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.


German Basic Law stipulates that its members must be elected in “general, direct, free, equal and secret elections”.

He further specifies that “elections are ‘direct’ because citizens vote for their representatives directly without the mediation of delegates to an electoral college. “

The German 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 Land party lists (second votes).

German citizens do not directly elect a chancellor, but their votes determine the composition of parliament every four years, and representatives additionally elect the chancellor.

In Germany, each voter can cast two votes: one for a candidate present in their constituency, and one for a list of party 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 in the 299 German constituencies, the other half via party lists in the sixteen German Länder (states). “

Each of these 299 constituencies directly elects a legislator by simple majority and the 299 seats go to the candidates elected on the party lists. This vote is essential because it determines the percentage of seats won by each party.


The Bundestag officially 598 seats but the size may increase due to the additional “overhang seats” and “balance seats”. Thus, the Bundestag had 709 seats instead of 598 after the 2017 elections. The number is increased to ensure that all parties get seats proportional to 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 intended to prevent small parties from entering parliament.

The high number between the first and the second vote determines the minimum number of seats for a party.

While the second vote determines the proportion of seats a party obtains, additional seats may be granted if the party wins more constituency seats in a federal state than it would be entitled to in the second vote.

For example, if a party gets 15 seats in the second vote but 20 candidates are elected in the first vote, it will get five more seats in the Bundestag.


Of the 47 parties on the ballot, three dominant parties are: the center-right Christian Democrats, the center-left Social Democrats and the Greens.

The center-right Union bloc Christian Democratic Union was the largest group in the outgoing parliament and consisted of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union.

The center-left Social democratic party has been in coalition with the Conservatives and is the second largest group.

The Left Party Green vegetables led the polls earlier this year and the party is focusing on social justice and climate change.


“A government can only be formed by parties which, alone or 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 federal officials who then choose the next chancellor.

As a rule, the coalition party with the most seats chooses the chancellor.

Once a coalition is decided, the German president appoints a candidate for chancellor to the Bundestag. This candidate needs a majority of all members to be elected and does not need to be a member of parliament. The former chancellor remains acting until a new government is formed.

In rare cases, if two attempts to elect a chancellor with a majority fail, the president is allowed to nominate a candidate who must win the most votes in a third vote or the president can dissolve the Bundestag and hold new elections. national. This has never happened before.


For the first time in German history, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be in the running. It has occupied the constituency Vorpommern-Rügen Vorpommern-Greifswald I without interruption since its creation after reunification in 1990

To replace her, three parties nominated official candidates. CDU appointed party leader Armin Laschet, the SPD appointed the current Minister of Finance and Vice-Chancellor, Olaf Scholz and the Greens put forward his 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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