Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

ENCORE!

Tunisia's Carthage International Festival turns 50

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

WWI Centenary: the battle for Verdun

Read more

THE BUSINESS INTERVIEW

When big companies want to do good

Read more

REPORTERS

Halal tourism on the rise

Read more

FOCUS

Many Turks angry over Syrian refugee situation

Read more

ENCORE!

Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday : The Best of the Bard

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

The Tour de France, a PR machine

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Coverage of the third plane crash in one week - from France, Algeria and Burkina Faso

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Coverage of the plane crash that took 116 lives - almost half of them French

Read more

  • Live: ‘No survivors’ from Algerian plane crash, says Hollande

    Read more

  • Paris bans new Gaza protest scheduled for Saturday

    Read more

  • French families grieve for Algerian plane crash victims

    Read more

  • Protest against Gaza offensive turns deadly in West Bank

    Read more

  • LA Times wipes France off the map in air crash infographic

    Read more

  • Tour de France fans bring the ambience to the Pyrenees

    Read more

  • Halal tourism on the rise

    Read more

  • French lawyer files complaint against Israel at ICC

    Read more

  • Ukraine names acting PM after Yatseniuk's shock resignation

    Read more

  • BNP to pay $80 million for defrauding Dept of Agriculture

    Read more

  • Deadly strike on UN shelter in Gaza Strip

    Read more

  • Wreckage of Algeria plane found in Mali

    Read more

  • Pope meets Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan

    Read more

  • Italy’s Nibali cruises to victory in 18th stage of Tour de France

    Read more

Europe

One man, two votes

Text by Euny HONG

Latest update : 2009-09-25

Out of the ashes of WWII, the authors of the German constitution in 1949 crafted one of the most complicated electoral systems in Europe. Some call it unfair. Whatever your view point, its eccentricities will play a huge role in this election.

The authors of the 1949 German Constitution were haunted by the chaos of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and the spectre of National Socialism. The combination of the these fears, the German constitution and the Electoral Law of 1956 ultimately resulted in the evolution of an electoral system that is generally viewed as one of the most complicated in Europe.

 

The three attributes that make it unique are the two-vote system, the Überhangmandate (the overhang mandate) and the rule that blocks any party from gaining any parliamentary seats if it does not manage to win 5% of the party vote. Both provisions are designed to “unclutter” the Bundestag and make decision-making a more rapid process.


First voice, second voice


Every voter gets two votes in the Bundestag elections. The first, the Erststimme (literally ‘first voice’) is a regular popular vote for individual candidates. The second vote, the Zweitstimme (‘second voice’) is for the party and its list. Because of the two votes, one can, for example, use the Erststimme to vote for a candidate from one party while using the Zweitstimme for a second party. Each ballot produces about half the candidates that end up in the Bundestag.


The list, a ranked hierarchy of members, is determined internally by each party. And that’s where problems arise, says Dr. Josef Braml, a resident fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations and the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Yearbook International Relations, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “In the US, politicians are entrepreneurs, on their own. If you make the majority vote, you’re in,” he says. “No party helps you, not even with financing.” In Germany, by contrast, the Zweitstimme gives German parties a lot of say, which means, according to Braml, “a lot of political infighting. If you don’t follow the party line, you may not be on the list.”

The Überhangmandate


One of the most peculiar aspects of the German electoral system, the Überhangmandate allows a party to win more seats than it has earned. If the number of votes a party receives in the Erststimme vastly exceeds the votes it receives in the Zweitstimme, extra seats are sometimes created in the Bundestag in recognition of the popular vote.


The Überhang could be of unprecedented importance this time, because the two main parties, the CDU/CSU and the SPD, are expected to win all of their Erststimme seats. Their Zweitstimme votes are projected to be much smaller. In any other system, this would mean fewer Bundestag seats. But with the Überhang system, the party gets “credit” for the first votes and picks up free seats.


Analysts expect up to 20 Überhang seats following Sunday's election.


The Überhang is the most controversial of all the aspects of the German electoral system, and the German constitutional court has ordered it to be reformed by 2011.


FRANCE 24 interviewed Dr. Jan Techau, another resident fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, where he is Director of the Alfred von Oppenheim-Center for European Policy Studies. He explains the justification behind the creation of the Überhangmandate: “The popular vote plus proportional representation are in conflict. You need to marry them, and one way to marry them is the Überhangmandate.”


The 5% minimum rule


A party that wins less than 5% of the party vote wins zero seats in the Bundestag.

To an outsider this seems punitive against smaller parties. But, experts say, it’s a necessary evil. “The 5% rule keeps the political landscape stable,” explained Techau. This decision has its roots in the political chaos and fractured parliaments that plagued Germany during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). “In Weimar Germany, no reliable majority was achievable. The framers of the constitution decided on the 5% rule – ‘inequality for the sake of stability.’”

When asked about whether the rule arose out of fears of National Socialism, Techau said, “Indirectly, because the Weimar parliament was so unstable that the Nazis could portray it as a useless tool and on this argument they gained a lot of votes.”

 

Date created : 2009-09-25

COMMENT(S)