DEUTSCH
ENGLISH
ESPAÑOL
FRANÇAIS
.
THE BASIC LAW
THE CONSTITUTIONAL BODIES
THE LEGAL SYSTEM
FEDERALISM & SELF-GOVERNMENT
PARTIES & ELECTIONS
COUNTRY AND LANDSCAPE
THE "LÄNDER" (STATES/COUNTRIES)
THE PEOPLE
THE STATE OF HAMBURG
HISTORY UP TO 1945
HISTORY PAST 1945
HAMBURG HISTORY
X
X
X

Parties & Elections


In a modern democracy, competing political parties are of fundamental importance. They are elected for a specific term during which they either assume the powers of government or keep check on the activities of the current administration. They therefore play a major role in the shaping of public policy. These functions are taken into account in the Basic Law, which devotes a separate article (Article 21) to the parties: “The parties shall help form the political will of the people. They may be freely established. Their internal organization shall conform to democratic principles. They shall publicly account for the sources and use of their funds and for their assets.“

Parties in the Bundestag.
Since the first general election to be held in the whole of Germany (1990) there have been six parties in the Bundestag: the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and Alliance 90/ The Greens. The CDU has no party association in the Free State of Bavaria, while the CSU puts up candidates for election in Bavaria only. In the Bundestag, however, CDU and CSU have a joint parliamentary group. The SPD, CDU, CSU and FDP were formed in the western states between 1945 and 1947. The SPD was a re-creation of the former mainly labor-oriented party of the same name which had been outlawed by the Hitler regime in 1933. The other parties were completely new. The Christian parties CDU and CSU, in contrast to the Catholic Centre Party of Weimar days, drew their support from both of Germany’s two major Christian creeds, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The FDP adopted programs in the tradition of German liberalism.

In the five decades since their establishment, these four parties have undergone significant changes. At the federal level they have all formed coalitions with one another once or been in opposition. Today they all see themselves as “popular“ parties representing all sections of the community. They have different factions which reflect the various elements of a people’s party.

From 1983 to 1990 the party “The Greens“, too, had its own group in the Bundestag. It had been established at the national level in 1979 and was gradually voted into some of the state parliaments as well. Its roots lie in a radical ecologist movement which initially embraced factions opposed to nuclear energy as well as pacifist protest groups. In the 1990 general election, however, The Greens failed to clear the five percent hurdle, but they were nonetheless represented in the Bundestag, sharing a list with the party “Alliance 90“, which put up candidates in the new states. In May 1993 the two parties merged into one under the name “Alliance 90/The Greens“. This party polled enough votes in the 1994 election to be represented in the Bundestag. In the 1998 election it ranked fourth, ahead of the FDP, and formed a coalition government with the SPD; the new Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs –?who also serves as Deputy Federal Chancellor?– is a member of Alliance 90/The Greens.

The PDS is the successor to the former Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), the communist party which ruled in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). It has not been able to establish itself as a major political force in united Germany. In 1990 the PDS – like the Alliance 90/The Greens group – was only represented in the Bundestag by virtue of an exception allowing the five percent clause to be applied separately in the new states and in the existing ones in the west for the benefit of the parties in the eastern part of the country. In the 1994 Bundestag election, the PDS achieved representation in the Bundestag on the basis of four constituency seats in Berlin. In the 1998 election it not only won the same number of constituency seats but also cleared the five percent hurdle, thus acquiring the status of a parliamentary group.

The five percent clause.
Of the 36 parties which sought election to the first Bundestag in 1949, only four remained in the parliament elected in 1990. This is the result of a “five percent debarring clause“ which was introduced in 1953 and made stricter still in 1957. It stipulates that only parties gaining at least five percent of the valid second votes or at least three constituency seats can be represented in parliament. This arrangement was explicitly accepted by the Federal Constitutional Court since its purpose was to prevent tiny splinter parties from entering parliament (as had happened in the days of the Weimar Republic) and thus enable the larger parties to obtain majorities that would enable them to govern.

In the case of national minorities, the five percent hurdle is waived at state level. Thus the South-Schleswig Voters’ Association, which represents the Danish minority, has a member in the state parliament of Schleswig-Holstein even though it obtained fewer than five percent of the votes. Local government elections sometimes produce results that differ greatly from those of federal and state elections. Here the “townhall parties“, independent voters’ associations, often play an important role.

The electoral system.
Elections for all parliaments in Germany are general, direct, free, equal and secret. Any German who is 18 years of age or older, has been residing in Germany for at least three months and has not been disfranchised is entitled to vote. Upon fulfillment of certain conditions, Germans living abroad can also vote in elections. Anyone who has possessed German nationality for at least one year is eligible to stand for election if he or she has attained the age of 18 by the day on which the election is held and has neither been disfranchised nor lost his or her eligibility to stand for election or hold public office as a conse quence of a judge’s ruling. There are no primary elections. As a rule, the candidates are nominated by their parties; however, individuals with no party affiliation may also run for office. Elections for the German Bundestag are based on a system of “personalized“ proportional representation. Voters have two votes, the first of which is given to a candidate in their constituency. The successful candidate is elected on a first-past-the-post basis. The second vote is given to a list of candidates put up by the parties.

The votes from the constituencies and those for the state lists are offset in such a way that the composition of the Bundestag almost identically reflects the distribution of votes among the parties. If a party has won more direct seats in the constituencies than its proportion of the votes would justify (these being known as “overhang“ seats), it is allowed to keep them, whereby no compensation is provided for the other parties. Whenever this happens, the Bundestag has more than the 656 members prescribed by law, hence the present 669. The object of having the electorate vote for state lists is to ensure that the strengths of all parties in parliament reflect their shares of the votes obtained. The constituency vote, the first vote, gives people the chance to choose a particular candidate.

Normally, the people take a keen interest in elections. The turnout for the Bundestag election of 1998 was 82.2 percent. It tends to fluctuate at state and local elections, but it is usually around 70 percent.

Membership and finances.
As of October 1998, the memberships of the parties represented in the Bundestag were as follows: SPD 775,400; CDU 625,800; CSU 178,900; FDP 68,000; Alliance 90/The Greens 50,200; and PDS 95,000. All parties require their members to pay subscriptions, but these cover only part of their expenses. The donations received are also insufficient. Moreover, there is a danger of big donors influencing the parties for their own ends. Therefore, pursuant to the new provisions of the Law on Political Parties governing party financing which entered into force on 1.January 1994, the parties receive funds each year from the state in the amount of DM 1.30 per vote for up to five million valid votes which they poll in elections to the Bundestag, the European Parliament and the state parliaments. For each additional vote they receive DM 1.00. Moreover, 50 pfennigs are paid for each DM 1.00 which a party receives from members’ subscriptions or from donations. These amounts may not exceed the funds raised by the party per year. The public grants for all parties together may not total more than DM 230 million (absolute limit) per year.


DEUTSCH
ENGLISH
ESPAÑOL
FRANÇAIS
.
THE BASIC LAW
THE CONSTITUTIONAL BODIES
THE LEGAL SYSTEM
FEDERALISM & SELF-GOVERNMENT
PARTIES & ELECTIONS
COUNTRY AND LANDSCAPE
THE "LÄNDER" (STATES/COUNTRIES)
THE PEOPLE
THE STATE OF HAMBURG
HISTORY UP TO 1945
HISTORY PAST 1945
HAMBURG HISTORY
X
X
X


© Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung