German elections - 21 September, 2002

The German election system involves in fact two elections, one for the candidate and the other for the party, the former choosing who will represent the district and the latter determining the number of seats in the Bundestag (Parliament).

The vote for the candidate is called the direct vote, this one to choose the representative on one of the 299 electoral districts, or constituencies. This is a first-past-the-post system, the candidate with the most votes winning the place. The more votes there are for the candidates of a party also influences the number of seats in the Bundestag, extra seats being attributed. The Bundestag has been reduced from 656 seats to 598.

The candidates for election are proposed by their political parties in the federal states. This list system is also called proportional representation, since after a certain number of votes are achieved, the candidate at the top of the lists gains a place, then the second placed, then the third and so on. Those at the bottom of the list have less chances than those at the top.

Political parties must have at least 5% of the votes to deserve representation in the Bundestag or in the districts. Of the 24 parties taking part, only the five main ones are expected to gain expression, these being Gerhard Schroeder’s the SPD (Social Democrats), the main opposition party of the CDU (Christian Democrats) in coalition with the CSU of Bavaria (Social-Christian Union), led by Edmund Stoiber. The Green Party (in coalition with the SPD), the Liberal Party (allied to the CDU/CSU) and the Democratic Socialist Party (PDS, ex-Communists) make up the top five.

The Parliament votes for the Chancellor (Prime Minister), the candidates for the post being chosen before the elections and these being traditionally the leader of the SPD or CDU/CSU. To have power, a party needs to have 50% plus one seat in the Bundestag, or needs to form a majority coalition government, which is often the case.

As for Sunday’s election, the forecast is at present a technical draw, Gerhard Schroeder’s popularity having risen due to his determined stance after the recent floods (people pull together in a crisis) and just as the wave of patriotic duty was dying down, the Bush administration’s arrogant stance on Iraq gave Schroeder the opportunity to vehemently declare himself against a unilateral strike, reflecting the mood of public opinion in Germany and in the EU in general.


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