Will Angela Merkel or Peer Steinbrück win the race? Although the two top candidates are in the media spotlight, German elections are all about political parties rather than individuals. “If you’re not a member of a political party, you have little chance of getting one of those 600 seats in the Bundestag.” That was what a guide to Germany’s lower house of parliament told a young visitor recently. Germany’s basic law stipulates that “Political parties shall participate in the formation of the political will of the people.” But many political scientists admit that they do far more than “participate,” they basically decide on who can shape politics in Germany. It is very difficult for any independent candidate without party backing to obtain a seat in parliament. And that is because of the very complex electoral system. 61, 8 million Germans are eligible to vote this year – these are all Germans above the age of 18; three million of them are voting for the first time.
These figures were provided by the Federal Statistics Office, the head of which also supervises the general election. All parties seeking to take part must register with him and get his approval to compete on the national level.
They need to have members across Germany, a written statute and a political platform, which explains their political mission and shows they adhere to democratic principles and Germany’s constitution, it needs to have elected an executive board, the party headquarters need to be on German territory, and every party that is not yet represented in a German parliament at state or federal level, needs to prove it has widespread support by collecting signatures of 0,1 percent of the electorate to get onto the ballot.
34 political parties have been cleared to participate in the election on September 22. Only nine of them will compete in all of Germany’s 16 states.