Upcoming German Election, Put Simply


By Director of Media Richard Wood


Sunday 24th September 2017. German elections must take place at least every four years.


If polling is correct, six (seven) political parties are likely to enter the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house. They are:

  • The centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). This party is led by Angela Merkel and has been in government since 2005.
  • The centre-right Bavarian Christian Social Union. The CDU does not stand in Bavaria, and instead are in alliance with the CSU. The two CU parties are often seen as one, but are in actual fact two separate parties, although they work very closely together.
  • The left-of-centre Social Democratic Party (SPD). The party’s chancellor candidate is Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament. Schulz’s party have been the junior partner in government with Merkel’s party since 2013. This arrangement is known as a grand coalition, and also occurred between 2005 and 2009.
  • The Greens are…you guessed it…a green party in Germany, and are a possible coalition partner for both main two parties. They are currently the smallest of the four parties in the Bundestag.
  • The Free Democrats (FDP) currently have no representation in the Bundestag but were the junior coalition partners in Merkel’s 2009 to 2013 coalition government. They are a socially and economically liberal party, hoping to make a comeback in September’s election.
  • The Linke (left) is a left-wing party, who is a possible coalition partner for the SPD. They are currently the third-largest party in the Bundestag.
  • The Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) is a right-wing party, who was formed just four years ago. They are hoping to gain representation in the Bundestag for the first time.

The electoral system

The voting system used to elect members to the Bundestag is the mixed member proportional voting system (MMP), which is also used in New Zealand. It is very similar to the version used for elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. Half the MPs are elected via a first-past-the-post single-member constituencies voting system while the other half are elected via a top-up list. The threshold for gaining seats through the list is 5%, which caused the FPD to lose all their MPs back in 2013.

Who will win?

If the polls, the bookies, and recent state electoral contests are any indication of the way the country’s political winds are blowing, then the CDU/CSU will probably emerge as the largest party after the election, meaning Angela Merkel will have probably secured an historic fourth term as German chancellor. The fact that there will be more parties in the Bundestag than before suggests that a coalition or deal involving three parties is a likely outcome.

Schulz could step up his game, and take the SPD to victory, but the current most likely outcome is a new government led by the CDU/CSU probably involving the FPD and/or the Greens. That said, another grand coalition is a realistic possibility if Merkel fails to secure a viable deal with the FPD should they return to the Bundestag.

The Pollytix German election seat calculator is a useful tool to see how vote shares could translate into seat shares, as well as to monitor the polls.

Did you know…?

While Germany’s head of government is the chancellor – the country actually has also a president, who is the country’s head of state, but whose powers are limited. The current president is the SPD’s Frank-Walter Steinmeirer, who was elected earlier this year.

Image rights: Commons Wikimedia

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