Voting law reform decided: Downsizing for the Bundestag

Voting law reform decided: Downsizing for the Bundestag

The deputies debated the electoral law reform heatedly on Friday. Union and left now accuse the traffic light of manipulation.

Bird's-eye view of people standing at a ballot box

The debate on changing the federal election law was lively Photo: Sebastian Rau/photothek/imago

At the very end of the debate in the Bundestag, Union faction leader Friedrich Merz tries to turn the new electoral law around. In a short intervention, he turns directly to the leaders of the traffic light group and asks them to postpone the vote by two weeks.

The most recently submitted amendment changes the mechanics of electoral law so fundamentally that it damages trust in democracy, says Merz. He had not previously spoken out in the heated debate, which is unusual given its importance. Instead, the head of the CSU state group, Alexander Dobdrindt, initially spoke to – which is even more unusual – loud applause from the left-wing faction.

Dobrindt rumbles

“This is not a reform, it is an act of disrespect for the voters, for the opposition and for democracy itself,” Dobrindt rumbled. “By not allocating constituencies, they want to damage the CDU/CSU, by abolishing the basic mandate clause they want to force the left out of parliament and, with obvious joy, question the CSU’s right to exist.”

Jan Korte, the parliamentary secretary of the left, was not inferior to Dobrindt. He accused the traffic light of a reform “in the spirit of Orban and Kaczyński”, spoke of an “attack on democracy” and a “cheated” amendment with which the traffic light wanted to eliminate two opposition parties.

Draft law further tightened

In fact, the SPD, Greens and SPD tightened their draft law again at the weekend. From the next election, the Bundestag is to be permanently reduced from the current 736 to 630 seats. The second votes alone should determine the distribution of mandates in the future. Overhang and compensation mandates are eliminated. This can mean that someone who is in first place in their constituency with the elections still does not get into the Bundestag – which drives the CSU in particular to the barricades.

The CSU has benefited greatly from the previous regulation and is now loudly shouting “election manipulation”. Konstantin Kuhle, FDP parliamentary group leader, countered in the Bundestag: “There is no constitutional right to a constituency mandate.” Obtaining it depends on the right to vote.

At the weekend, the traffic light also had the so-called basic mandate clause removed from their draft suffrage. So far, parties that remain below the five percent hurdle have sat in the Bundestag based on the strength of their second vote result if they have won at least three direct mandates. That saved the left in the last federal election. This could also have consequences for the CSU, which received 5.2 percent nationwide in 2021. If she slipped below five percent, she would be kicked out of the Bundestag despite many constituency victories. “I didn’t know that the CSU feared the five percent hurdle,” remarks the Green parliamentary group leader Britta Haßelmann smugly.

Sebastian Hartmann from the SPD, on the other hand, emphasizes that the Bundestag is now demonstrating its “own ability to reform”. That had failed for ten years and a few commissions – above all at the CSU.

Merz’ intervention at the end remains unsuccessful. The new electoral law is adopted with 400 votes in favour, 261 against and 23 abstentions. The latter come from the AfD. The Union will probably sue the Federal Constitutional Court, and Jan Korte also announced: “See you in Karlsruhe.”

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