As always you can find my sources for this post on the second page. I also included some links to Wikipedia articles of the relevant parties and candidates for further reading. This post is rather long. So I separated it into different sections. Feel free to just scroll down to the questions that interest you most.
As most of you probably know this weekend is the national German election in which Germany votes for a new government. Because I’m German and very passionate about politics, I decided to write a little post for my internationals followers with some basic facts and questions about the German election. This text will cover questions such as “How do we vote?”, “Which parties are there to vote for?” and “Who will be the next Angela Merkel?”.
I’ll also try my best to deliver some background information about the political atmosphere in Germany, which issues are relevant at the moment and what makes this particular election so important. However, I must warn you: My text will not be neutral. I will talk about facts here but of course I’m a writing from a very subjective point of view. I cannot take a neutral stand when it comes to people or parties that obviously do not share the basic values of equality, democracy and fairness.
Some Basic Facts and Figures About the German Election
- Angela Merkel has been chancellor of Germany for 16 years from 2005 to 2021. That’s more than half of the time since the German reunion in 1990.
- There are 47 parties that people can vote for in the German election.
- 6 of these parties are likely to be represented in the next parliament.
- This is the first national election during which the current chancellor of Germany is not running again – Angela Merkel will retire instead.
Who can vote?
All German citizens who are more than 18 years old and have been living in Germany at least three months prior to the election are allowed to vote. There are special rules for Germans who live abroad. This German election is also the first national election in which people with disabilities, mental illnesses or other conditions who have a legal guardian are allowed to vote.
One thing that is often criticised is the exclusion of people without a German citizenship. People who live and work in Germany and have sometimes spent their whole lives in this country are not allowed to vote because they do not have a German citizenship. This group consists of almost 10 million people which make up 14% of the German population!
How do we vote?
There are two ways to vote in Germany: By letter or in person. Every voters gets two different votes: The first and the second vote.
With the first vote they can vote for a candidate in their district. In total there are 299 different districts for the German election. In each district several parties (but not every party) put up a candidate between which the voters can choose. Traditionally most of the districts were won by one of the two big parties, the SPD or CDU (you can find more information about the parties below). But during the last German election in 2017 candidates of the AfD, the Left and the Green party also managed to win in some districts.
The second vote is for an individual party. It impacts how many seats the party will get in the Bundestag, the German parliament. Each party has a list of candidates in each of the sixteen German Bundesländer (states). When they get votes within that state they get to send people from their list into the Bundestag.
One example: The candidate of the Green party in my city has been part of the parliament since 2005. However, she never got in because of the first votes. Instead she got in because she has a high rank on the list of my Bundesland (state).
Which parties are in the current parliament?
There are currently six different political parties represented in the parliament and all of them will probably get in again. A party can only be represented in the German parliament if they have gained more than 5% of the votes or if at least 3 of their candidates won the direct voting int their district.
SPD – Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social Democratic Party of Germany)
The SPD is one of the oldest and biggest parties in Germany. The party has its roots within the late 19th century socialist movement and was considered a worker’s party. Their main cause is fighting for social equality. Although their core values (justice and solidarity) are still the same they have become less leftist in their politics over the years. The SPD has been part of the government in coalition with the FDP, the Greens and more recently as the smaller partner of the governing CDU.
The Union consisting of the sister parties CSU (in Bavaria) and CDU (in the rest of Germany) are the second big party of Germany. With Angela Merkel they have lead the government for the past 16 years with changing coalition partners. While there are differences between the two parties, they work together when it comes national politics. In general the CDU and CSU are conservative parties. Although their name might suggest otherwise they are open to other religions. However, they follow a “Christian conception of men”. Because of these conservative values many of them voted against the legalisation of same-sex marriages and the Union has often taken up a position against the advances of LGBTQ+ or women’s rights.
Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens)
The Green party was founded in 1980 and has its roots within the freedom movement, the anti nuclear movement, the environmental movement and other left movements of the 70s. Their key values include peace, self-determination, justice and ecology. They have generally been supportive of LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. Because the Green party wants more gender equality in politics, they always alternate between male candidates and candidates of other genders on their lists for elections. They have been part of the government as coalition partner of the SPD in the past but recently they have gained more voters due to the Fridays for Future movement and an increased interest in effective climate crisis politics, antiracism and gender equality.
FDP – Freie Demokratische Partei (Free Democratic Party)
Although the FDP party is rather small compared to the two big parties CDU and SPD it has played an important role in Western German politics since the WWII and often influenced politics as the smaller partner in coalition with one of the other two. They are also known as die Liberalen (the liberals) which reflects their politics. They are liberal when it comes to the economy and promote economic liberalism, the free market and privatization. But they are also liberal when it comes to progressive causes such as the advance of LGBTQ+ rights and support the freedom of LGBTQ+ people. They are often the favoured coalition partner of the CDU party.
AfD – Alternative für Deustchland (Alternative for Germany)
Founded in 2013 and still a relatively young party the ultra right and nationalist AfD party has come to political success, especially in Eastern Germany. The party started as an ultra conservative, Eurosceptic and anti-Islam party especially focusing on migration politics. However, they have become more and more radical over the years showing racist (especially anti-Islam), antisemitic, anti-feminist and xenophobic tendencies. They are against LBGTQ+ rights and Covid measurements, promote “traditional family models” and even deny the (man-made) climate change. Because none of the other parties wants to form a coalition with the AfD it is unlikely that they will be part of any government unless they get the majority of the votes.
Die Linke (The Left)
The Left party was founded in 2007 when different left parties (among them successors of the SED from Eastern Germany) merged. They promote social justice, democracy and are critical of capitalism. Some of their political goals include a higher minimum wage, more effective climate politics and taxation of the rich. Although they never have been part of the national government the left party is represented among several regional governments and even head of the government in Thuringia.
Who will be the next Angela Merkel?
Three of the political parties have nominated a candidate that they want to be the next chancellor of Germany. However, German voters don’t vote directly for a candidate as in the USA for example. The party who got the most votes has the task of forming a new government and its candidate will be the new chancellor of Germany. Here are the three candidates for the job:
Olaf Scholz (SPD)
Olaf Scholz was mayor of Hamburg and is currently vice-chancellor to Angela Merkel and the minister of finance in the government formed by a coalition of CDU and SPD. He belongs to the less left wing of his party and has been in favour of a grand coalition with the CDU in the past. However, he also declared during the current election campaign that he could imagine working together with the Green party. During his time as finance minister he promoted making no new debts. He was criticized for his involvement in two corruption scandals, the cum-ex-scandals and Wirecard affair. In the early 2000s he also favoured the use of emetics during police work in Hamburg despite its health risks. One 19 year old died due to this practice.
Armin Laschet (CDU)
Armin Laschet is currently head of the CDU party and Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia (that’s the Bundesland in which I live) leading a coalition of CDU and FDP. I’ll be honest here: I find it hard to find neutral words to speak about Armin Laschet because he is governing the Bundesland in which I live and I think he hasn’t done a great job, neither here as Minister-President nor as candidate for chancellor. So here are some of the reasons why I don’t like him:
Armin Laschet is more conservative than he presents himself to be: In the past he opposed gay marriage and one of his close advisors used to be active in the pro-life movement. He also made mistakes and showed unfitting behaviour during the election campaign, such as laughing at a memorial for the victims of the flooding in July, lying about his party program and being annoyed with kids who interviewed him and asked uncomfortable questions. He also failed to clearly distance himself from obvious racists within his party.
As Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia he constantly met up with energy company RWE and made decisions to destroy villages just so that RWE could get the coal underneath them although this practice harms both environment and people and Germany wants to get rid of coal by 2038. In regard to the situation in Afghanistan he was also acting terribly: First, by declaring that 2015 should not repeat itself (2015 was the year in which Germany took in a lot of refugees) and then by stating a day later that if he gets elected he will rescue people from Afghanistan – making people’s lives a pawn in his election campaign is simply tasteless and inhumane.
Annalena Baerbock (The Greens)
Annalena Baerbock is co-head of the Green party together with Robert Habeck. She is only the second woman to be nominated candidate for chancellor by a political party (after Angela Merkel) and the first ever candidate for chancellor nominated by the Green party. During the election campaign she had some early success but was criticised for mistakes she made in regard to her CV, sources of her book and her income. Among other things she advocates for more effective climate politics and better refugee and migration politics.
At the moment Olaf Scholz is leading the race because his party is the strongest force according to recent polls. However, both Armin Laschet and Annalena Baerbock have also been in the first position during the past few months and it is not certain whose party will win.
What was the election campaign like?
The election campaign was a real shit show, if you ask me. It was full of nasty behaviour and lies such as described above. Each candidate made severe mistakes (like Annalena Baerbock) or was even involved in supposed cases of corruption (like Armin Laschet and Olaf Scholz). The election campaign was less about political ideas and plans for Germany’s future than about scandals or presenting the other candidates in a bad light.
Especially the treatment of Annalena Baerbock in the media was an example of misogyny. Starting with questions about how she will combine being a chancellor and being a mother to two young children (why don’t male politicians ever receive such questions?) and ending with how they reported for weeks and weeks about her mistakes – which of course were not okay but still small compared to the scandals surrounding her fellow candidates.
Armin Laschet and Olaf Scholz were presented as more competent because of their current positions while their failures and mistakes in these positions hardly seemed to harm how competent the media perceived them. One could almost assume that this different treatment of the three candidates had more to do with their gender and age than with their politics.
Which topics and issues are relevant in Germany at the moment?
There are a number of important political topics in Germany at the moment:
The climate crisis: After the flooding in Western Germany in July people have become increasingly concerned about the climate crisis. The Fridays for Future movement is also very strong here and many of the young people who’ve been protesting in the streets for the past years demand a change.
The Covid pandemic: Due to the pandemic health politics have become also an important topic. The Querdenken movement, a mix of right extremists and anti vaxxers which protests against the Covid restrictions, has lead to a radicalisation which culminated in the storming of the Reichstag building (the seat of the German parliament) and the recent murder of a 20-year old sales assistant at a gas stop who asked a customer to wear his mask and was shot in return.
The police problems: There have been numerous scandals involving police officers in the past few years during which officers showed anti-semitic or racist views. Due to that there is an increased call for a change within the police.
Important topics for me: Topics that are relevant to me personally are a change of the discriminatory and outdated laws in regard to abortions and the rights of trans and non-binary people. I also think that the next government needs to get serious about fighting the climate crisis and social injustice in Germany. There needs to be a better education about racism, antiracism, antisemitism and other forms of discrimination. And last but not least an issue that really scares me is the right extremist terrorism we’ve seen in Germany in the past few years: The Hanau shootings, the murder of Walter Lübke, the attack of the synagogue in Halle and all the small unknown attacks that don’t make it into the media show that Germany has a big problem with right extremist terrorism.
Which parties will most likely form the new government?
As I am writing this almost everything is still possible. Because there are so many parties with smaller percentages it is most likely that the new government will consist of a coalition of three parties. There are six different possible coalitions. Because in Germany all the parties are known by colour the possible coalitions often have names that reflect those colour combinations.
The Red-Red-Green Coalition: SPD, the Greens and the Left
The Traffic Light Coalition: SPD, FDP
The Grand Coalition: SPD and CDU/CSU
The Kenya Coalition: SPD, CDU/CSU and the Greens
The Jamaica Coalition: CDU/CSU, FDP and the Greens
The Germany Coalition: CDU/CSU, SPD and FDP
Thank you for reading. I hope my post was interesting and informative for you. If you have any further questions, you can ask below in the comments or simply send me a message on here or on Instagram.
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