View of the Bundestag, on October 25, 2021.picture alliance (dpa/picture alliance via Getty I)

The German Parliament approved this Friday thanks to the votes of the three parties that make up the government coalition -Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals- the controversial electoral reform that aims to reduce the size of the Bundestag, the Lower House, which with 736 deputies this legislature is the largest in the world among the democratically elected. The reform was a pending issue that has become more urgent as the number of seats increased election after election due to a convoluted electoral system inherited from another political era. The new law harms the conservative opposition and the left of Die Linke, who have called it “unconstitutional” and have announced appeals to the Constitutional Court to prevent it from entering into force.

The Bundestag has reached a record number of 736 deputies this legislature, despite being designed for a maximum of 598. The cost has skyrocketed, there is a lack of physical space to house the deputies’ teams and the daily work of the committees has slowed down. become too uncomfortable. Fearing that it will continue to get fatter —because the system in force until now has no limit and could theoretically continue to grow indefinitely— Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his associates have presented a proposal to set the number of seats at 630.

Two workers install new rows of seats in the Bundestag chamber on October 15, 2021, ahead of the opening session of the legislature.
Two workers install new rows of seats in the Bundestag chamber on October 15, 2021, ahead of the opening session of the legislature.getty

The reform eliminates the so-called additional and compensation seats, thanks to which a party like the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which only runs in the State of Bavaria, has been having more representation from the one that would theoretically correspond to him by the number of votes. The system in force until now has allowed the current Bundestag to be one of the largest Parliaments in the world, only surpassed by the Chinese National People’s Congress, with around 3,000 deputies, and the British House of Lords (788 members), which does not They are directly elected by the citizens.

Complicated double voting system

In federal elections each German has two votes. with the first they elect the preferred candidate in their constituency; in the second they mark the box of a political party. Until now, the candidates with the most votes in each of the 299 constituencies in Germany always had seats by direct mandate. The other theoreticians 299 came from the closed lists of the parties. The second vote is the one that determines the relative size of each party in the Bundestag.

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If a formation obtains more direct mandates than the seats that would correspond to it according to the proportion of the second vote, the system assigns them extra deputies (additional seats). In turn, as the electoral law in force until now guaranteed strict proportionality, the rest of the parties are assigned more (compensation) seats to re-balance the forces.

The parliamentary group of the Social Democrats, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the center, meeting in one of the Bundestag buildings.  It is the largest group, with 206 members.
The parliamentary group of the Social Democrats, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the center, meeting in one of the Bundestag buildings. It is the largest group, with 206 members. TOBIAS SCHWARZ (AFP)

The system worked for decades because two major parties reigned in the system, but the progressive fragmentation of the vote in Germany has been complicating it and adding deputies. There was consensus that the reform was necessary, but the conservatives refuse to accept the solution proposed by the tripartite: a party will have the deputies that correspond to it according to the vote obtained by its list, so that there will be candidates who, despite winning in their constituencies are left without a seat. The big loser is the CSU, which traditionally wins direct mandates in Bavaria, and by extension the CDU, with which it shares a parliamentary group in Berlin.

The reform also eliminates the exception that existed for the clause of 5% of the minimum vote. If a party did not reach that threshold, but did obtain three direct mandates, it could form a parliamentary group. It was exactly what happened to Die Linke in the last elections (September 2021), when it managed to make three of its candidates the most voted in their constituency. Despite obtaining 4.9% of the total vote, it now has a group of 39 deputies. In the pre-vote debate, Jan Korte, leader of the Die Linke parliamentary group, described the tripartite proposal as “the biggest attack in decades against the right to vote as a cornerstone of democracy” and accused the coalition of wanting to “politically eliminate two opposition parties in the Bundestag”, referring to his own and the CSU.

The Bavarian conservatives are also in danger with the elimination of the exception to 5%, because in the last elections they obtained 5.2% of the votes at the national level, since they only appear in the Land of Bavaria (13 million inhabitants , compared to 84 in Germany). “This is not a reform; It is an act of disrespect for voters, for the opposition and for democracy in general, ”said the parliamentary leader of the party, Alexander Dobrindt, at the beginning of his speech.

The conservatives and Die Linke will file appeals before the Constitutional Court. Both will argue that the reform does not take into account the regional particularities of a federal country. In the case of the Social Christians, by Bavaria; in the one on the left, because direct mandates give representation to East Germans. Without the exception of the 5%, Korte complained, the reform “leaves the East to (the ultra-right of) Alternative for Germany.”

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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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