Germany’s top court ruled on Wednesday that the country’s election law is unconstitutional, leaving Europe’s biggest economy with no valid rules on how to distribute seats in the Bundestag lower house just over a year before the next vote. The Karlsruhe-based Constitutional Court upheld a case brought by the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and more than over 3,000 citizens against the law, which was altered by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition last year. Germany’s complex system, which can end up creating extra or “overhang” parliamentary seats that benefit the bigger parties, breaches citizens’ rights to take part in direct, free and equal elections as enshrined in the constitution, the court said. Merkel’s government, preoccupied with trying to stem the euro zone debt crisis, now has to come up with a new law by autumn 2013, when the next federal election is due. A spokesman said the government respected the court’s decision.
“Clarity has been brought to bear on a complex matter of German electoral law… This ruling must now be carefully, but quickly looked at,” said deputy government spokesman Georg Streiter at a regular news conference. Officials said they expected to have a law in effect by the next election and refused to speculate on what would happen if that were not the case.
Although the ruling is an embarrassment for Merkel, it is probable that all German parties will now agree on a new draft law. This might dilute the positive effect this quirk in the system has had on the bigger parties, especially Merkel’s conservatives, but it unlikely to swing election outcomes.