On Sunday, Germans went to the polls to cast their votes for the new chancellor…and the results tell of a coming change in German politics.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has been the chancellor of Germany for 16 years, outlasting three US presidents and four British prime ministers.
Chancellor Merkel was once considered a moderate politician who wouldn’t allow the ship of state to drift too far, and at one time she had a popularity rate of 80%.
But those days were the glory days. Merkel and her party, the center-right Christian Democrat Union, have fallen out of favor with the German public, which cost them Sunday’s election.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The center-left Social Democrat Party, led by Olaf Scholz, won 25% of the vote, narrowly edging out Merkel’s CDU party.
The BBC reported, “SPD leader Olaf Scholz said he had a clear mandate to form a government, while his conservative rival Armin Laschet remains determined to fight on.
The two parties have governed together for years. But Mr. Scholz says it is time for a new coalition with the Greens and liberals.
Preliminary results gave his party a narrow election win over the conservatives who suffered their worst-ever performance.”
The voting may be done, but the horse-trading is just beginning.
Germany has a complicated governing system in which representation for the Bundestag—the German Parliament—is decided by two votes: One for local representatives from each constituency (similar to Congressional districts in the US) and one vote for a preferred party.
Translation: Germans vote twice. Once for their preferred candidate in their home district, and then again for which overall party they prefer.
There are 299 constituencies that elect representatives, and then the rest of the members are chosen by voter’s party preference.
So, the total number of elected members of the German parliament is still undetermined!
The next time people complain about the US electoral system, use Germany as an example of how crazy it could be.
To help with the confusion, the Economist wrote the following for the rest of us non-Germans to understand how the German system works:
“Why does the Bundestag’s size vary? Its make-up has to reflect the results of the second vote. But it is common for voters to split their ballot, meaning parties often win more seats in the first vote than the second. If a party wins more constituencies than it is entitled to based on its list vote share, the extras are known as ‘overhang seats.’
Other parties are awarded ‘balance seats’ to keep the chamber proportionally representative of the list vote. This is why the current Bundestag, which was elected in 2017 with 709 members, is the biggest ever.”
The results of the election show a dramatic shift in power away from Merkel’s party and the SDP. Although the two parties combined for roughly half the vote, the smaller parties like the Greens and FDP gained a larger share of the voting pie from previous elections.
German voters said they were concerned about climate change more than any other issue, something they felt that Chancellor Merkel failed to properly address, especially after she closed nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster in Japan earlier in her tenure.
Merkel also faced controversy after allowing over a million refugees to enter the country from the Middle East, as well as her role in austerity measures imposed on Greece during the Euro Zone crisis earlier in her chancellorship.
She will remain in power until the parties agree on a coalition, which could take several months.
But one thing is for sure: Angela Merkel will no longer be leader of Germany—but will that be for better or worse?
Time will tell…