Global News Journal

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Will Germany tamper with election law before vote?


Should Germany change its election law just a few months before September’s parliamentary vote? That’s the question that has been weighing on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-left coalition.

But fears that Germany might end up “smelling like a banana republic”, as Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper columnist Kurt Kister wrote, or be mentioned in the same breath as Iran if it ends up tampering with the law so close to the Sept. 27 ballot has helped kill the intriguing idea for the time being. There is also a tacit angst running through Merkel’s conservative CDU and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, that they could end up throwing away a possible victory once again (a 21-point lead melted to 1-point win in 2005) for their preferred centre-right coalition with the Free Democrats by changing the law now.

It’s a quirk of the German mixed member proportional two-vote system that has caused a mess with so-called “Ueberhangmandate” (“overhang seats”). Each voter can cast one ballot for a specific candidate in one of the 299 constituencies and a second ballot for a particular party. The second vote gives the percentage of seats each party wins. But if a party wins more direct seats in the constituency via the first ballot than it should have based on the percentage of second votes, new “Ueberhangmandate” are created. The CDU/CSU and SPD are the primary beneficiaries.

Der Spiegel news magazine cited research from political scientists showing that the CDU and CSU could pick up a record 24 “overhang seats” while the SPD is projected to pick up at most 3 additional seats. That would raise the odds of the CDU/CSU being able to form a centre-right coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and end their loveless marriage with the SPD in the grand coalition. The CDU/CSU currently enjoys a 11-point lead in opinion polls but their lead is expected to narrow by September — as it did in 2005.