German elections: A chaotic start of the post-Merkel era

Yesterday were national elections for Germany’s Bundestag (Federal Assembly), its unicameral parliament.

German elections do not function by the first-past-the-post system like the USA, UK, or Canada, nor by full proportional representation as in Israel, but by a hybrid system in which each voters gets to vote twice: once “for a person” and once “for a list”. (I just learned that New Zealand has a similar MMPR, mixed-member proportional representation, system.)

The first vote is for who gets to represent your constituency (there are 299 total, elected first-past-the-post); the second is for a party slate at the federal level (the remaining 410 436 seats).

There is a 5% electoral threshold: parties that pull less than 5% federally are excluded from the Bundestag. However — and this saved the far-left Die Linke from electoral oblivion this time — if a party has at least three elected constituency seats, it can stay in the Bundestag even if it drops below 5%.

Coalitions are pretty much unavoidable in such a system: usually they have either the CDU/CSU or the SPD as the senior partner and a smaller party such as the FDP or the Greens as the junior partner. The CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and its Bavarian sister party the CSU (Christian Social Union) are by European standards center-right on social and moral issues, center on economic issues: it arose after the war from the ashes of the pre-Third Reich [Catholic] Center Party and its small Protestant counterparts. Postwar Germany’s first Chancellor — in many ways its founding father — Konrad Adenauer belonged to the CDU, had been a longtime Center Party mayor of Cologne until forced out of office and into hiding in a monastery during the Hitler [y”sh] nightmare.

The SPD or Social-democratic Party of Germany has been around since the days of the Kaisers, with an interruption during the Third Reich. The two main junior parties are the pro-business FDP (Freedom-loving Democratic Party) and the Greens, the latter internally split between a “realist” and a “fundamentalist” wing. Presumably not Koalitionsfähig (=acceptable for a coalition) are the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) and Die Linke (The Left, mostly former East German “ex-“communists).

Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor, i.e., Prime Minister) Angela Merkel had announced her retirement, though she will stay on as a caretaker head of government while a coalition is cobbled together.

Results for all constituencies are meanwhile in, reports Die Welt. The SPD is the largest party by a hairbreadth, marking hefty gains over their dismal score last time. The CDU/CSU is the biggest loser, marking its worst showing in its entire existence: Die Welt (itself right-leaning) commented repeatedly on the numerous electoral gaffes of its leader Armin Laschet. The Greens booked solid gains and will be the third party; the far-left Die Linke got a serious drubbing and was nearly knocked out of partiament altogether. (It was saved from oblivion by an exception to the 5% rule if the

The far-right AfD lost votes but stays above 10%; some 8.7% voted for miscellaneous (sonstige) slates or candidates.

This is the projected composition of the Bundestag.

Assuming the AfD and Linke are not Koalitionsfähig, this leaves four parties, with the following coalition options for a majority:

  • “Jamaica”: black-green-yellow CDU/CSU – Green – FDP
  • “Traffic Light”: red-yellow-green SPD – FDP – Green
  • “grand coalition”: SPD – CDU/CSU. The only two-party option.
  • “German flag coalition”: SPD – CDU/CSU – FDP. I would not count this one 100% out, consisting of Germany’s three traditional democratic parties — could the FDP act as a bridge here?
  • [theoretically] “Pan-African flag coalition” of SPD – CDU/CSU – Greens
  • [theoretically] a kind of national unity coalition of all four

Stay tuned. And be sure the knives are out for the current CDU/CSU leadership.

UPDATE: this is more a curiosum than anything else, but: Deutsche Welle in English reports that one seat may actually go to the South Schleswig Voters Association, which represents the Danish and Frisian minorities in Germany’s northernmost province. Apparently ethnic minority parties are not subject to the “5% rule”.

Also, you may have noticed the total number of seats changing. The Bundestag has no fixed size: as a compensatory mechanism for “overhang seats” (initial representation in excess of national vote share, due to overperformance in constituency seats), so-called “Ausgleichsmandate” (literally, “leveling seats”) are added to the Chamber.

UPDATE 2: in the federal states of Thuringia and Saxony, the far-right AfD is the largest party now (see, e.g., the live-ticker of the Frankfurter Allgemeine).

Also, here is an interactive graphic representation of vote migrations since 2017, based on polls by Infratest Dimap. This is the view for the CDU:

“Andere”=”other”, “Nichtwähler”=non-voters

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