Lawmakers in Germany approved electoral reforms on Friday that would reduce the size of the country’s increasingly bloated parliament, but drew strong criticism from two opposition parties and the plan is expected to face a court challenge.
The lower house of parliament, or the Bundestag, currently has a record 736 members. The changes, approved on a 400-261 vote 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. Germany’s next national election is expected in the fall of 2025.
In German elections, each voter has 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 with a simple majority. At least 299 more seats go to candidates selected on party lists. List votes are important because they determine the percentage of seats each party can win.
Currently, if a party wins more seats through direct vote than it would have received under party vote, it keeps the extra seats – but for other parties more seats are added to ensure that the proportional vote be reflected accurately.
Because Germany’s traditional large parties continue to dominate the direct vote, even if their overall support has declined, the Bundestag may result in more than the minimum of 598 legislators.
To participate in the seat-sharing, a party must win 5% of the party-list vote or have at least three directly elected legislators.
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The reform, drafted by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition, would set the size of the Bundestag at a constant 630 seats.
“The people of our country… expect that we will be able to reform, and to show that we are also prepared to accept cuts,” said Dirk Wiese, an MP from Scholz’s Social Democrats.
Under the new system, parties would have to win 5% of the vote for a share of the seat-sharing and the three-winner option would be eliminated. And no additional seats will be added to allow all direct constituency winners to take their seats, meaning the worst-performing candidates may miss out.
This has particularly incensed two opposition parties: the conservative Christian Social Union, which runs only in Bavaria and holds nearly all of that state’s 46 directly elected seats; and the Left Party, which fell short of 5% support in the 2021 election but is a full parliamentary group as it emerges with three directly elected MPs.
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“You have decided to shrink the German parliament, now you are shrinking the opposition in this parliament,” said Alexander Dobrindt, the CSU’s top lawmaker in Berlin.
The centre-right bloc that includes the CSU made it clear it intended to take the matter to Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court.
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