Status: 07/07/2022 03:48
The electoral law must be reformed, but a consensus has been fought for years. Now things are moving. What is the problem? And how does it continue?
The current Bundestag has 736 deputies – 598 are planned. The traffic light coalition wants to set this number by law as an upper limit for future legislatures and is trying again after a few unsuccessful attempts at reform by the grand coalition.
On Tuesday, the SPD and the Greens decided on the cornerstones of electoral reform. The traffic light partner FDP also took care of it with kindness. The Bundestag’s Electoral Law Committee is discussing this today. An interim report will be presented by the end of August. What is the problem? What are the pros and cons of electoral reform in Germany? An overview.
What is electoral reform really about?
Due to the German system of personalized proportional representation by means of a first vote for the constituency candidates and a second decisive vote for the party in the Bundestag, an imbalance is increasingly emerging: parties can often win more seats in parliament by direct mandates than by their second result votes. This is very clear in Bavaria: there, with one exception, all the constituencies (45 out of 46) were won by a CSU politician. According to their proportional vote, the CSU should not have as many seats in the Bundestag.
Compensatory mandates were invented to counterbalance these excess direct mandates, which ensure that the other parties also get more seats, so that the relationship between the parties that were elected via the second votes is again correct. The political scientist Thorsten Faas describes here a “conflict of objectives”: On the one hand, with this type of election, it is important that the direct candidates are close to the citizens and that they are represented in parliament. On the other hand, the ratio of second votes should not be watered down.
Direct mandates against result of the second vote
In the past, this electoral system has led to ever-increasing parliaments – and thus to increased costs. These growing XXL parliaments are also criticized for becoming more inefficient. Parties have been working for many years to reverse this trend with new model election laws. The currently ruling traffic light coalition has also decided to do the same – and to this end has decided on a commission “to reform the electoral law and modernize parliamentary work” in the Bundestag.
The body should “deal with proposals based on the principles of personalized proportional representation which will effectively reduce the size of the Bundestag in the direction of the statutory standard size and prevent the Bundestag from growing in the long term,” the three parliamentary groups wrote. in their associated movement. This was supported not only by the majority of the candidates, but also by the left faction in the Bundestag.
By the end of August this year, the Commission is due to present an interim report with recommendations for future limits on the number of MPs. The key points were already presented in May. The body is composed of 13 deputies and 13 experts. The SPD parliamentary group has four members, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group has three, the Greens and FDP parliamentary groups have two each, and the AfD and Die Linke parliamentary groups each have one member – so the traffic light groups also have a majority political role there.
What do the factions of the traffic light government offer?
Something like squaring the circle is actually attempted there: All 299 constituencies should continue to be represented in the Bundestag in the latest key issues document, but at the same time the standard size of 598 seats in the Bundestag should not be exceeded. . According to the proposal of the traffic light groups, the excess mandates and thus also the compensation mandates, which had previously been created to counteract the excess direct mandates, should be abolished. As a result, not all directly elected MPs could count on a direct mandate – those with the worst results in their party could not move in. After the 2021 federal election, this would have been the case in 34 cases: twelve times for the CDU, eleven times for the CSU, ten times for the SPD and once for the AfD.
To ensure that all constituencies are always represented, the deputies proposed in their proposal a “substitute vote” as a solution in addition to the first vote for the ballot, which is then decisive for the representation of the party – a kind of word to say for each voter who has to leave his constituency if the direct candidate misses his entry to the Bundestag because of the new model: if the mandate of the “excess candidate” were to be abolished, the first votes and the substitutes would be added together . Whoever obtains the most votes then obtains the mandate. It is therefore possible that the winner of the first vote is also the big winner.
What is the position of the opposition?
Representatives of the largest opposition faction, the CDU/CSU, showed their irritation that the traffic light factions had already made their proposal public without consulting the opposition. They refuse the abolition of direct mandates. ‘Whether constituency mandates are won and whether or not they then have to be reallocated’ is not consistent with their view of the legitimacy of constituency mandates, the leader of the Union parliamentary group said this week. , Friedrich Merz, on the sidelines of the Bundestag.
Merz came out in favor of the so-called ditch voting rights model. Without any compensation, 299 mandates would be allocated directly in the constituencies and the remaining 299 according to the share of second votes. However, the strength of the parties in the Bundestag could then deviate sharply from their share of second votes. The traffic light proposal, by contrast, borders on “election fraud with an ad,” added Alexander Dobrindt, the chairman of the CSU state group and has previously threatened to sue over the constitution.
Die Linke also rejects the current traffic light proposal. Thanks to a special arrangement for three direct mandates, it was able to re-enter the Bundestag as a parliamentary group, although it ended up just below the 5% mark in the election result. Leftist faction leader Amira Mohamed Ali, like the Union, expresses “constitutional concerns”. The coalition’s proposal would lead to a “de facto devaluation of votes”. Mohamed Ali also criticized the fact that opposition factions were not involved in the reform plans.
The AfD, in turn, agrees in principle with the traffic light model – the proposal would largely correspond to an AfD draft law on electoral reform from autumn 2020, has said Commissioner and AfD MP Albrecht Glaser tagesschau.de.
Why are direct mandates the point of contention?
Anyone who wins a constituency directly, especially as a member of relatively smaller parties in parliament, enjoys great prestige in politics. After all, the politician has generally won more recognition with voters through his personality and his political commitment than his own party has managed to do. The direct mandate is also linked to the image of proximity to the citizen: in principle, all members of the Bundestag are treated on an equal footing. But according to the definition of the Bundestag, “the directly elected people’s representative has more power than the list representative for the interests of his constituency”.
However, direct mandates of really eminent politicians such as Gregor Gysi of the Left Party in Berlin-Treptow are rather the exception. According to a representative poll, only 10-15% of those who vote know their constituency candidates – “the song of praise that we often hear these days from the winners of the constituency is a bit distorted”, explains the political scientist Faas.
Another question would be whether the traffic light model would change the motivation of constituency candidates. This is an exciting point, says Faas, “the reform could actually demotivate CSU constituency candidates in Bavaria, for example, but of course also motivate constituency candidates from the Greens and the SPD – who could suddenly win the constituency there -down”.
Would a trial before the Constitutional Court have a chance?
It is not possible to say exactly at the moment, since only the key points are available so far – but no overall reform project. While the Union faction already sees this as ‘incompatible with the Basic Law’, members of the traffic light factions are optimistic: the leader of the Greens faction believes it is a ‘fair reform , constitutional and balanced electoral law” which will effectively reduce the size of the Bundestag.
The domestic policy spokesman of the FDP parliamentary group, Konstantin Kuhle, also contradicted the legal objections: “It should correspond very well to the spirit of the Basic Law for a party to obtain exactly as many seats as the result of the elections corresponds”. Ultimately, according to political scientist Faas, it’s a matter of prioritization, whether more weight is given to personalization or proportional representation.
And how does it continue?
The Bundestag’s Election Law Reform Committee, which was set up with votes from the Traffic Light Coalition and the Left Party, is due to present an interim report in August with recommendations for future number limits. of deputies, and its final report by the middle of next year.
However, the SPD parliamentary group is aiming for a legislative process from September to be completed by the end of this year. Opposition leader Merz was also open to the accelerated schedule by the end of the year. There is a compromise in the room, but their two models are difficult to reconcile. SPD parliamentary group leader Matthias Miersch stressed that the traffic light proposal was “an open invitation”. It is not excluded “that we end up with a model where many still say that we are going to rally to it”. However, Miersch also spoke about the blockages of recent years: “Now we have to take steps forward.”
With the exception of a decision on the voting age, the majority of the parliamentary groups at the traffic lights is sufficient for the reform of the electoral law. However, a larger parliamentary majority would likely ensure the sustainability and permanence of the reform.