The battle for votes in the Bundestag election / Merkel era ends

By Ute Kaiser

The final spurt for the 2021 federal election has begun. Posters are hanging in squares and streets. On them, parties and candidates are canvassing for votes for the election on Sunday, 26 September, from 8 am to 6 pm. The Bundestag (= the parliament) in Berlin is elected every four years.

The Bundestag represents all the people in Germany. Anyone who is at least 18 years old and has German citizenship may vote. Those entitled to vote are sent an official election notification.

The election is secret. No one is allowed to see who a person is voting for. Each person entitled to vote has two votes. With the first vote, they choose a candidate. Whoever gets the most votes in a constituency is directly elected and becomes a member of parliament. With the second vote, voters determine how many seats a party gets in the Bundestag. This time, 47 parties are standing for election.

The Bundestag has at least 598 seats: 299 for the direct candidates and 299 for the parties. A party must get at least five percent of all votes (5-percent hurdle). Only then is it represented with MPs in the Bundestag. In order to take all votes into account, there is a complicated procedure. If more direct candidates of a party have been elected than it would be entitled to according to the result of the second votes, it gets so-called overhang mandates. To compensate for these overhang mandates, the other parties are also allowed to send more MPs to the Bundestag. They receive so-called compensatory mandates.

The elected members of parliament have responsible tasks. They pass laws and decide on the federal budget. They decide how much money is to be spent on what. They control the Federal Government and decide on the deployment of the Bundeswehr – for example in Afghanistan or Mali.

The Bundestag also elects the Chancellor (= head of government). Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) is not running again after 16 years in office. Armin Laschet (CDU), Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Annalena Baerbock (Greens) want to succeed Merkel. To be elected, their respective parties would have to have an absolute majority of votes in the Bundestag. This is unrealistic. In order for parties to get a majority of MPs together, they form coalitions. Since the Bundestag elections four years ago, the CDU and SPD have formed the governing coalition and, with their majority of votes, elected Merkel as Chancellor. The other parties such as the Greens, the FDP, the Left Party and the AfD are the opposite pole, i.e. the opposition.

In the current election campaign, the parties are trying to convince voters of their programmes for the future. On the topic of climate change, for example, there are many different concepts and heated debates.

Detailed information on the Bundestag elections in simple language can be found at


Wahlplakate. Foto: tünews INTERNATIONAL / Mostafa Elyasian.

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