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This is the way the federal elections work

Germany’s most important election lies ahead. We explain why every citizen has two votes. Facts about the electoral system.

The core principle of democracy in Germany is stated in Article 20 of the Basic Law: “All power comes from the people”. Thus citizens elect representatives of their political interests, for the state form is representative democracy. On 24 September 2017, 61.5 million eligible voters will elect the 19th Bundestag.

Video: Democracy simply explained (in German only)

What are the tasks of the Bundestag?

The Bundestag is the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany. Representatives of the people are MPs, who are elected for four years. The most important tasks of the Bundestag are the election of the Federal Chancellor, law-making and acting as a check on the government.

Why do voters have two votes?

The election system for the federal elections is that of a personalized proportional representation. Each voter sets two crosses on his or her ballot. The first vote decides which politician from his or her constituency will go to parliament as representative. Half of the seats in the Bundestag are assigned by these direct mandates; the other half by the state candidate lists of the parties. The political parties run candidates for the Bundestag in every federal state.

The voter gives his or her second vote to a party. The second vote has a greater weight because it defines the power relations in parliament: the number of seats for the individual parties.

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How many MPs are there in the Bundestag?

The Bundestag normally has 598 seats, but this figure can increase. Currently, there are 631 MPs. This is because of excess mandates: for example, if the second vote entitles a party to 100 seats, but 110 of its candidates have been directly elected on the first vote, the additional ten may enter parliament. Lest the other parties are thereby disadvantaged, they too are allocated further seats on the basis of percentage.

How many parties are up for election?

As forums for participation and as representatives of citizens’ interests at the municipal as well as the state and federal levels, the parties play a central role in the political system of the Federal Republic. In the 2017 Bundestag elections, 42 parties, more than ever since reunification, are contending for the votes. Sixteen are running for the first time. The major parties, the CDU/CSU and SPD, dominate the party landscape and form the current government coalition. Also represented in the 18th Bundestag are Alliance 90/The Greens and The Left party.

Who can enter the Bundestag?

Only parties that have received at least five per cent of all second votes nationwide may enter the Bundestag. The five-per-cent-clause prevents too many small parties from being represented in the parliament, a circumstance that would make the formation of a government coalition more difficult.

Quick facts

  • 598 seats in the Bundestag: The parliament consists of at least 598 MPs.
  • 299 constituencies: Constituencies are so divided that there are about the same number of voters in each.
  • 299 direct mandates: The politician who receives the most votes in a constituency enters parliament with a direct mandate.
  • 4,828 candidates will be running for election as MPs on 24 September 2017.
  • 5 per cent: Only parties that have received at least five per cent of the second votes may enter the Bundestag.
  • 42 parties are running in the 2017 Bundestag elections.
  • 61.5 million German citizens are eligible to vote.
  • 18 years of age is the minimum required age to vote and to run for office.
  • 71.5 was the percent of voter turnout in the 2013 Bundestag elections.

Who elects the Federal Chancellor?

The head of government is not directly elected by the people, but by the MPs. The Chancellor candidate is proposed by the Federal President – as a rule, the candidate is from the party which has the majority in the Bundestag.

Who is eligible to vote and to be voted for?

There is an active and a passive right to vote. In federal elections every German citizen 18 years of age or older can vote. Legal age is also the prerequisite to be a candidate for the Bundestag. In the 2017 Bundestag elections there will be about 61.5 million citizens eligible to vote – 31.7 million women and 28.8 million men.

Author: Tanja Zech

The article was originally published here and was republished with permission from Deutschland.de.

September 2017


Bill Guiney
21 September 2017

New Zealand elections which are based on a similar system will be held the day before Germany's.

Isabella Gyau Orhin
20 September 2017

I was once in the Green's Party office . I support the Green Party. May their coalition get above five percent. we need to promote a green earth and a green lifestyle.

20 September 2017

Thanks for the clear and precise explanation of the German electoral system.

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