Like much of Germany’s democratic machinery, its voting system is designed to avoid past mistakes. A combination of proportional representation and first-past-the-post majority voting fosters stable coalitions and discourages small fringe parties. When Germans go to the polls on September 22nd, they will elect the members of the Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament. Whichever coalition of parties can muster a majority of members will form the federal government. (Members of the Bundesrat, the upper chamber, are delegates of Germany’s 16 states, or Länder). Germans have two votes. One is for a candidate to represent the local electoral district (of which there are 299), chosen by simple plurality of votes. The second vote is for a party. Any party receiving 5% or more of the total is entitled to seats in the Bundestag, whether any of its candidates have won a district or not. If a party gets more seats through direct election than its share of the overall vote merits, it can keep some of these “overhang” seats. Thanks to a recent change in the electoral law, the other parties then get “compensatory” seats to restore the balance among the parties. These provisions mean the precise number of Bundestag members will not be known until after the election, but it could reach 700.
Germany’s biggest party is the ruling conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), led by Angela Merkel, together with its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The overall group is known as the CDU/CSU. The group’s support has risen in recent years and is currently around 40% in opinion polls (see chart 1). The second-biggest is the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), support for which has fallen in recent years and is now about 27%. Its candidate for chancellor is Peer Steinbrück. Neither of these two parties is big enough to win a majority of seats in the Bundestag on its own.
In the past one or the other of them has formed a coalition with one or more of the smaller parties, or with the other big one. The CDU/CSU currently governs in coalition with the liberal, free-market Free Democratic Party (FDP), but support for that has been slipping and it might not reach the 5% needed to be represented in the lower house.
Full Article: Colours of the rainbow | The Economist.