Lawmakers in Germany on Friday approved electoral reforms that would reduce the size of the country’s increasingly bloated parliament, but two opposition parties have been vehemently critical and the plan is expected to be challenged in court.
The lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, currently has a record 736 MPs. The amendments, adopted by 400 votes to 261, with 23 abstentions, would reduce that number to 630.
Other proposals to reform the system have failed in recent years due to the difficulty of reconciling the interests of the parties. The next federal election in Germany is expected in autumn 2025.
In federal elections, each voter receives two votes: one for a directly elected candidate, the other for a party list.
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Each of the country’s 299 constituencies directly elects its legislative representative by simple majority. At least 299 more seats go to candidates elected on party lists. The list votes are crucial because they determine the percentage of seats each party wins.
Currently, if a party wins more seats from the direct vote than it would get in the party vote, it keeps the extra seats – but more seats are added for other parties to ensure the proportional vote is accurately reflected.
As Germany’s traditional major parties continue to dominate direct elections, even though their overall support has declined, this may result in the Bundestag having many more lawmakers than the 598 minimum.
In order to participate in the distribution of seats, a party must win 5% of the party list votes or have at least three directly elected MPs.
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The reform of the governing coalition of Chancellor Olaf Scholz would set the size of the Bundestag constant at 630 seats.
“People in our country … expect us to be capable of reform and that we too are willing to accept cuts,” says Dirk Wiese, MP for the Scholz SPD.
Under the new system, parties would need to win 5% of the vote to participate in the seat distribution and the three-winner option would be eliminated. And no extra seats would be added to allow all outright constituency winners to take their seats, meaning the worst-performing candidates could drop out.
This has enraged two opposition parties in particular: the conservative Christian Social Union, which is running only in Bavaria and holds almost all 46 directly elected seats there; and the Left Party, which did not get 5% support in the 2021 election but has a full faction because it emerged with three directly elected MPs.
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“You wanted to downsize the German parliament, what you are doing now is downsizing the opposition in this parliament,” said Alexander Dobrindt, top politician of the CSU in Berlin.
The centre-right bloc, to which the CSU belongs, has made it clear that it intends to take the case to the Federal Constitutional Court.
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