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BERLIN – The identity of the next German Chancellor may not yet be known, but it is almost certain that he will be elected by a parliament even larger than that of today.

Germany is not growing, but the peculiarities of its voting system mean that the number of members of the Bundestag fluctuates.

German voters cast two ballots, one for a candidate from their local constituency and a second for a party. If a party wins more seats through the first than the second, a process is triggered whereby it manages to retain those seats and the other parties are compensated for the imbalance this creates.

Confused? You’re not alone. The system is so obscure that few Germans understand its mechanics. But politicians cannot agree on fundamental reform because no one wants to risk losing seats, even though parliament reached a record 709 seats in the last election. They tried last year, but the changes won’t do much to stop the Bundestag from bulging.

“Based on current polls, my prediction is that the next Bundestag will have 860 seats,” said Christian Hesse, professor of mathematics at the University of Stuttgart who has been embroiled in the feud over a reformed election law for years.

Hesse’s estimate is not the most extreme scenario among those currently circulating in German media, but it would still mean 151 more seats than the current total.

“The prescribed size of parliament is actually only 598, that is, the number of constituencies – 299 – multiplied by two,” Hesse continued.

But if a party wins more direct candidates in the first vote than it would be entitled to have in the second vote, it is entitled to so-called “redundant seats”, which must then be awarded. compensated by what are called “equalizer seats”. ”, So that other parties are not disadvantaged.

In the last election, 65 overhang seats and 46 leveling seats were added to the Bundestag.

Divide the vote

The whole system was relatively manageable for much of postwar German history, when there were only a few parties in parliament. But things turned upside down as more parties entered parliament and more voters voted for different parties.

“Due to the increasing pluralization of the party system, it is becoming more and more fragmented and majorities are getting smaller, which increases the risk of overflowing and leveling of seats also because more and more people are dividing their voices, ”said Robert Vehrkamp, ​​director of the Future of Democracy Program at the Bertelsmann Foundation, a think tank.

In this election, many observers say that a perfect storm is brewing in the Bundestag.

One reason is that many center-right voters can split their votes – for example, by supporting a local candidate from the conservative CDU / CSU alliance but voting list for the Free Liberal Democrats (FDP).

“One of the biggest risks is that the CDU / CSU wins many direct seats while performing poorly in the second votes,” said Vehrkamp.

Vehrkamp said he was not particularly bothered by the money the additional lawmakers will cost the taxpayer because “democracy is allowed to cost money,” but too many seats will make parliament dysfunctional.

“Twenty years ago, a Bundestag committee estimated that an appropriate parliamentary size for Germany would be a maximum of 600 depending, among other things, on the workflow and the size of individual committees,” he said. said Vehrkamp, ​​adding: “A parliament with 800 delegates works worse than a parliament with 600 delegates – and we are already at 709.”


For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICS Poll polls.

Choose a Chancellor

Surprisingly, while the electoral process exudes German meticulousness, the path to a new chancellor after an election is rather vague.

On Sunday, German voters will not directly choose the successor of Angela Merkel, who is not seeking re-election after 16 years in power.

They will elect a parliament which, in turn, will elect a chancellor once the parties agree on a government.

There is no process in the constitution to form a coalition and the president does not have to mandate a party to try to build an alliance. That is for the parties themselves to determine.

It is only after the coalition negotiations are completed that the president presents himself to propose a candidate for the chancellor.

“Before that, it is not a legal but a political question to what extent individual parties want to enter into coalition negotiations,” said Dana-Sophia Valentiner, professor of public law at the Justus Liebig University in Gießen.

Coalition talks will be extremely difficult this time around, as it is almost certain that three parties – rather than the usual two – will be needed to form a majority coalition. In theory, a minority government is possible, but the inherent instability it brings makes government unlikely.

If a candidate chancellor does not obtain the necessary majority in all three rounds, the president must decide either to appoint the chancellor of a minority government or to dissolve the Bundestag, triggering a new election.

In a country that values ​​an orderly process, this would be what the Germans call a GreatGAU – a total collapse.