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PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION IN GERMANY

Special Commentary

By Idrissa Hilton Gogra 

Information Attaché 

Embassy of Sierra Leone 

Berlin

I’ve been observing the political scene in the Federal Republic of Germany over the last few weeks as the country builds up to its parliamentary elections. There are indeed certain aspects of the politics in this country that Sierra Leone can either emulate or use as a base from which to further solidify our democracy

On Sunday 26 September, Germans will elect the lower house of the federal parliament, the Bundestag. Although voting in person takes place on the day, postal voting has already begun. Some 60.4 million Germans over the age of 18 are eligible to vote.

The Bundestag is made up of at least 598 seats, and usually more.

Although the winning party becomes clear on the night, the make-up of the next government is only known once the winner is able to form an absolute majority in parliament with one or two other parties. In short, the German governments over the years have been coalitions. The winner does not take all. For instance, the current Minister of Finance of the UDC led Government is from the SDP.

POLITICAL PARTIES IN GERMANY

Christian Democratic Union (CDU)

Mrs. Merkel’s conservative CDU has dominated German politics for decades along with its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union

CDU leader Armin Laschet would be Mrs. Merkel’s natural successor, but he has struggled to win over voters, particularly after he was pictured laughing during a visit to a flood-hit town in July. Bavarian leader Markus Söder is more popular but his conservative rival is unlikely to hand him the candidacy.

One unique thing about this elections is the manner in which the Germans comport themselves in the entire process.

No Street Rallies, 

Civil Organizations are very active. They share flyers of almost all the candidates in a bid to educate the populace on the electoral process to help people make good choices among the candidates.

Social Democratic Party (SDP)

The center-left SPD has been in coalition with the conservatives and is running neck and neck in the polls with them. This week, one poll put the party ahead of the CDU for the first time in 15 years

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister, is the party’s candidate for chancellor and now has a real chance of victory. 

Other parties that could also feature in a coalition government include the liberal Free Democrats (yellow) and socialist Die Linke (The Left). The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) enjoys strong support in eastern parts of Germany but is shunned by the mainstream parties because of its politics.

In Germany, a party has to win at least 5% of the second vote to enter the Bundestag. This threshold was reportedly designed to prevent small, often radical, parties from gaining power.  According to Germany’s electoral system, the make-up of parliament must reflect the result of this second vote.

The second vote therefore determines the percentage of seats each party will get in the Bundestag and its chances of forming a government.

The tricky part is the number of seats in parliament can increase if there are imbalances between each party’s results in the two votes. So the outgoing Bundestag doesn’t have 598 seats, it has 709.

Consider this hypothetical example:

The CDU wins 110 seats in the constituency vote and 100 seats in the party vote. In this scenario, the CDU would have 10 more seats than it should, according to its share of the all-important second vote. Sometimes voters back a particular candidate and then choose a different party.

So, the CDU gets to keep the extra 10 seats, which are known as “overhang mandates”.

However, the CDU now has 10 more seats than it should have – an unfair advantage.

To level the playing field, all other parties are assigned so-called balancing seats. This increases the number of representatives for all other parties on a percentage basis.

In this example, their seats would increase by 10% of their election results to correct the imbalance.

When will we know the result?

The winners and losers should be clear within hours of the vote closing.

That was the case in the last Bundestag vote in 2017, when Angela Merkel delivered a sombre speech to mark her party’s underwhelming results. But talks on forming a government can take weeks, as in 2017, when there was a failed attempt to form a Jamaica coalition with the CDU (black), Greens and FDP (yellow).

Even though Germany is a Federal system with two parliaments existing side by side, their electoral practices are worthy of emulation. 

In these elections, issues of national concern are discussed and not people.

The debates are conducted with civility with no aspersion on opponents. The public is glued to their TVs to make up their minds about who to vote for. 

So may be or civic groups in Sierra Leone should also work like their counterpart in Germany in being fair to all candidates and parties and relentless condemnations and skewed covert campaigning. As part of the political reforms President Bio has been talking about Sierra Leoneans should evolve a proportional representation system that brings about inclusive governance. This system has served Germany well. Sierra Leone can evolve its own system to serve its post-war aspirations.

Idrissa Hilton Gogra 

Information Attaché 

Embassy of Sierra Leone 

Berlin

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