Think of the Bundestag as the UK House of Commons or the US House of Representatives. The German elections are considered to be some of the fairest in the world due to their complexities, but how do they work?
The German Federal Government consists of three main parts: the judiciary, the executive branch, and the legislative branch. The legislative branch is made up of two chambers of parliament,the Bundesrat and the Bundestag. The Bundestag is the one where Germans get to cast their vote every four years, both for members of parliament of their own constituency, as well as for a political party.
Out of the 598 seats set for election in the Bundestag, 299 belong to directly-elected representatives, each of their own district. The other half is decided by the vote on the political party. This vote determines how the remaining 299 seats will be divided up between Germany’s political parties. To qualify for a seat, a party must receive at least 5 per cent of the votes in a state, so evidently, states like North Rhine-Westphalia, which has a population of 18 million people will get to fill the largest number of seats left in the Bundestag. To form a government, the chancellor needs to receive over 50 per cent of the votes of the members in parliament. To reach that threshold, coalitions between parties are being formed. Subsequently, members of the Bundestag vote to elect the most powerful person in the country, the federal chancellor, who then chooses the members of his or her cabinet.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, now 66, has steered Germany and dominated European and international politics since she took office in 2005. But in 2018, when she stepped down as the political leader of her party, the CDU, Christian Democratic Union, Mrs Merkel said she will not pursue a fifth term. Her then replacement, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her resignation last February after failing to impose her authority on the party, leaving the most powerful party in Germany without a clear candidate just eight months before the election. A decision on her successor was also delayed several times by the coronavirus pandemic.
Last Saturday, after 11 months of uncertainty, the CDU chose Armin Laschet as their new political leader through an online convention. This does not necessarily mean that Mr Laschet will be the one running as the CDU’s candidate for Germany’s chancellor, but he will either run or have a strong say in who does run.
Who is Armin Laschet?
Laschet, 59, is the governor of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia – a centre-left stronghold. For some time, he was considered to be Merkel’s favourite candidate and viewed by many as likely to continue Merkel’s centrist approach. He is known for his liberal politics, advocating for immigrants, and defending Mrs Merkel back in 2015 during the refugee crisis, but his response to loosening restrictions after the pandemic’s first phase surprised many and reportedly infuriated Mrs Merkel. He has since changed his stance, but he has had to work to repair the damage to his political credibility.
Mr Laschet defeated conservative businessman, Friedrich Merz in a run-off vote by 521 to 466. The third candidate, Norbert Roettgen, was eliminated with 224 votes. During the debate last week, Mr Laschet said: “What I bring is government experience, the leadership of a big state, balancing different interests and – this perhaps doesn’t hurt for a CDU leader – having won an election.” In his victory speech, he said: “I want to do everything so that we can stick together through this year… and then make sure that the next chancellor in the federal elections will be from the [CDU/CSU] union.”
The CDU is part of the Union bloc along with its sister Bavaria-only, the CSU – Christian Social Union, and its leader, Markus Soeder, seems to be widely considered a candidate at the chancellor’s position, particularly after his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Health minister, Jens Spahn, who is running to become deputy leader under Laschet, is also known to aspire to the position. Whoever runs will face Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the candidate for Social Democrats, currently Merkel’s junior coalition partner, as well as a candidate from the Greens, who will run the first time for the chancellery.