The Political System

The Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, is chosen through a complicated electoral process in Germany. The voting process combines the advantages of both proportional and direct representation while also guarding against historical election errors in Germany that resulted in political splintering during the Weimer Republic between World Wars I and II (Staudenmaier). A Basic Law for Germany was approved by the Parliamentary Council on May 8, 1949. A reliable parliamentary system of government was given direction as a result. The Weimar Republic's downfall was due to congressional policy, which continued to fail (The Federal Republic of Germany). The Basic Law defined fundamental roles and rights to Parliament. For Instance, Bundestag became the first organ within the constitution, elected through direct votes of the people. The first parliamentary elections happened on August 14, 1949.

The German legislative organ constitutes of two houses, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, both of which are constitutional bodies. The Bundestag participates in the legislature and law adoption processes while the role of the Bundesrat is to give consent to already legislated laws (The Federal Republic of Germany). Therefore, the German Parliament can be described as a bicameral legislature, which comprises of the elected Bundestag (lower house) and the appointed Bundesrat (upper house). For Bundestag, elections are held once after every four years unless an early dissolution. Before the 24th September 2017 elections, the last one had been held on 22nd September 2013 where the Christian Democratic Union won 255 seats and became the majority party in Bundestag. The total constitution of seats in Bundestag is 598, all who are elected through a mixed electoral system. A half is elected from the 299 constituencies through the majority vote while the rest are filled with proportional representation systems using parties. The Bundesrat has 69 members under appointment by the state governments. These members hold offices in federal and state institutions. The number of seats in every state is determined by the size of population and state, which ranges from three to six seats. For Bundesrat members, there is no definite term of office. Members can only be recalled or replaced by their state governments (Research Office Legislative Council Secretariat). The robust nature of German Parliament can be grounded on the absorption of East Germany by the West Germany.

German reunification occurred on 3rd of October 1990, when East Germany was incorporated into West Germany. Initially, the West has been an ally of the United States, France, and Great Britain while the East has been an ally of the Soviet bloc. After reunification, different federal states were reestablished, and these include; Thuringia, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, and Saxony. All of these states were from the East Germany and were incorporated into the governance system of the West Germany. It is after the unification that the Basic Law underwent amendments to fit the current German Constitutional provisions (New World Encyclopedia). Henceforth, the Basic Law required a Federal Chancellor to be the head of a government. But to become a Chancellor, one had to meet specific qualifications. For a Federal Chancellor to receive a Presidential appointment, they have to get absolute majority votes in the Bundestag. The election is followed with extensive negotiations between the parties planning to offer a joint governance, and the leader of a party or coalition of different parties that wins the elections becomes the Federal Chancellor. Since 2005, Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union party) has been the Federal Chancellor. Federal Chancellor proposes ministerial candidates for presidential appointment, chairs the Cabinet and reconciles differences between ministries. He/she also determines governmental policies and commands the armed forces when the country is being attacked (Research Office Legislative Council Secretariat).


For proper operations of the German parliamentary system, political parties had to be effective. In Article 21, contained in the Basic Law, political parties are mentioned as very significant components of the German Constitution (The Federal Republic of Germany). Since the first Parliamentary elections that took place on August 14, 1949, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) has been the dominant political parties. However, there are other parties such as Social Democratic Party (SPD), The Left Party (Die Linke), The Green Party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), and Free Democratic Party (FDP) (Ellyatt).

Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/ Christian Social Union (CSU)

CDU/CSU political color is black, and its chairperson is Angela Merkel. It has 430,000 members. The party was founded in 1950 after the end of WWII. It started as a gathering of all German Christians who were conservative voters. Most of the supporters of this party constitute of people above the age of 60, churchgoers who live in the rural areas (especially Southern Germany). The party also receives support from small business owners and those with medium or lower levels of education. In 2013, the party obtained 311 out of 630 seats. This was 41.5% of the total votes. CDU is the dominant party in Germany and has been the leader of the government for 47 of 67 years since the establishment of the German government (Sigmar Gabriel).

Social Democratic Party (SPD)

Founded in 1875, SPD is the oldest political party in Germany. During the early decades of the 20th century, the party remained as an umbrella organization for several leftists’ movements, communists, and trade unionists. After the Communists Party of Germany, (KPD) was established in 1919, SPD transformed into a hub for reformers instead of revolutionists. Martin Schulz who is the chancellor candidate chairs the party of 440,000 members. The party’s color is red and had gained 193 out of 630 seats in the 2013 elections. Most of its supporters constitute trade unions and the working class. The party’s high values have been in advocating social policies. The party has played a role in the government for 34 out of 67 years (Sigmar Gabriel).

The Left Party (Die Linke)

Die Linke was established in 2007 has is chaired by Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger with chancellor candidates before 24 September 2017 being Dietmar Bartsch and Sahra Wagenknecht. The party’s color is red and magenta and has 60,000 members. In 2013 Bundestag election, the party secured 64 out of 630 seats. Die Linke’s strongholds are the new German states in the former East. The party has a long history and is deliberated as a direct descendant of Socialist Unity Part in the 1990s.

The Green Party

Cem Ozdemir (chancellor’s candidate together with Katrin Goring-Eckardt) and Simone Peter chair the party. It had 60,000 members and secured 63 out of 630 seats in the 2013 Bundestag election. The color of the party is green. This party depends on well-educated, urban demographics for its support. Its support is majorly in major German cities with a large number of universities. This party is the most successful counterculture association in the German’s post-war political history. The party’s official name is Alliance 90 and sprouted out of social protests movements (Sigmar Gabriel).

Alternative for Germany (AfD)

Frauke Petry and Jorg Meuthen chair AfD with Federal Chancellor candidates being Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel. The party was founded five months before the 2013 elections have 27,000 members. The party survives by poaching supporters from significant parties except for the Greens and can mobilize non-voters. The party targets low-income earners and those with a low level of education.

Free Democratic Party (FDP)

FDP was founded in December 1948 and remains the kingmaker of both SPD and CDU. The party is chaired by Christian Lindner and has 54,000 members. The party’s color is yellow. In 2013 elections, the party did not win even a single seat and thus failed to clear the 5% hurdle to be part of the lower house. Before the 24th September 2017 elections, there were chances that it would form a coalition with CDU. Most of the supporters come from those who are self-employed such as dentists, business owners, lawyers, and a few from workers. The party is grounded on the principle of civil rights and individual freedom.

Merkle and Other Leaders

The first time Merkel came to power was in 2005 when she formed a coalition with her left-of-center rivals, the SPD. In 2009, she managed to emerge a victor in another election gaining seats and created an alliance with the FDP. In 2013, as a conservative leader of CDU/CSU, Merkel won an overall majority. After its ally FDP lost all seats in 2013, she decided to form another coalition. She had worked in the office for 12 years before she was re-elected in the recently concluded elections. Merkel’s political journey has not been easy, as she had been forced to climb over criticism, disapproval, and dissent from her rivals, especially from the SDP led by Martin Schulz. Merkel is the first female German Chancellor who has broken a political record in overseeing Europe’s largest economy since 2005. In an article, The Stylist, Merkel is described as a ruthless woman, who has found her way up the ladder by playing the bigger game (Dearden). Merkel’s policy on humanitarian issues is grounded firmly on Willy Brant's report, updated in 2001. The report is one of those publications that remain incredibly informative on a humanitarian perspective (The World's Resources ). Willy Brant survived the Eastern European policy, which he established through the opposition had executed a vote of no confidence. His fall came later because of espionage affairs, which was never his fault. It is because of Brant’s vision that leaders such as Merkel had been able to counter rivals.

Before 24 September 2017 elections, political temperature, and the pressure were high. Angela Merkel and her chief rival Martin Schulz remained defiant and kept attacking each other as the poll and election days neared (Foster). Over time, the polls indicated that Merkel (CDU/CSU leader) was leading with more than 37% creating a prediction of her possible return to power (Ellyatt). According to Karsten Grabow, there was no slightest margin of the doubt on Merkel’s possible win (Grabow). This is because CDU/CSU were still the most influential political parties in Germany. No political coalition was likely to defeat Merkel. Despite her party being the strongest, Merkel was battling criticisms from different angles. For instance, anti-immigration groups rocketed their support due to concerns about the refugee crisis, mass sexual assaults, terror attacks, etc. AfD attacked Merkel of her decision to make German borders porous for Refugees in 2015. They attributed the policy for the ISIS-inspired terrorism such as the Berlin Christmas market (Dearden). Alexander Gauland stated that “We want a different policy." (BBC). This statement was an indication of AfD discontent on the number of immigrants that were entering Germany.

Before the elections date, a section of the German population had anticipated that Martin Schultz could topple Angela Merkel. Martin, aged 61 was even getting the attention of Jeremy Corbyn’s advisors when the SPD leader was struggling to mobilize supporters. But six weeks to the election, he was trailing behind Merkel, something that gave him a nickname, ‘Sankt Martin.' In his statement, Heribert Prantl stated that “The SPD candidate is toiling hard, but no one is taking any notice” (Connolly). Martin Schultz, when he arrived in Berlin from his previous engagements in the European political scenes as the president of the European Parliament, he had a force that enabled him to recruit thousands of recruits to SPD, both new and former. In two decades, the party had gurnard over 10% support. However, as time passed, his once anticipated growth in politics started declining when Merkel seemed to use all means under her power to retain her seat as the Chancellor. SPD suffered setbacks in both regional and national elections (Ellyatt).

Results of the election September 24th

After 24th September 2017 Bundestag elections, Angela Merkel was announced the winner after her party CDU/CSU obtained 33% of votes with majority seats of about 218. However, the score was down as compared to 41% achieved in 2013. These results were the worst for the party since 1949. Her primary rival Martin Schulz of SPD gathered 20% with 138 votes. In a statement, Schulz affirmed that “the SPD would not renew its ‘grand coalition’ with the CDU but will head into opposition.” On the other hand, AfD broke its historical record by gathering 13.5% of votes and 87 seats. Thus, it became the first overtly nationalist party in the Bundestag in 60 years. AfD success marked a significant shift in how German politics after WWII are to be conducted in the house, introducing a very dynamic and different tone inside the Bundestag (Henley).

The decision of the SPD to be an official parliamentary opposition left Merkel with FDP and The Green Party as the only options for coalitions. This option is referred to as the ‘Jamaica’ option where the colors of the three parties (black-gold-green) represent Jamaican national flag. However, given that the coalition has never been tested, the process will be arduous and could take months. Moreover, both The Green Party and FDP have downplayed this prospect of a Jamaican coalition, but due to their absence in the government for 12 and four years respectively, they may be enticed into the alliance using power. The decision by SPD indicates that AfD ceases to be the official party of opposition in Bundestag. The AfD pledged for constructive opposition inside parliament, but the Greens have complained that the Nazis have returned to the house (Henley).


BBC. "German election: Merkel vows to win back right-wing voters." BBC 25 September 2017. .

Connolly, Kate. "Angela Merkel races ahead in polls with six weeks to go." The Guardian 17 August 2017. .

Dearden, Lizzie. "Germany election date set for 24 September as Angela Merkel battles for fourth term amid far-right rise." Independent 18 January 2017. .

Ellyatt, Holly. "German election 2017: All you need to know about the vote." CNBC 22 September 2017. .

Foster, Alice. "When is the German election 2017? Will Angela Merkel LOSE power?" Express 22 September 2017. .

Grabow, Karsten. "The federal election of September 24, 2017." Konrad Adenauer Stiftung 26 September 2017. .

Henley, Jon. "German elections 2017: Angela Merkel wins fourth term but AfD makes gains – as it happened." The Guardian 24 September 2017. .

New World Encyclopedia. "German reunificati." New World Encyclopedia 20 June 2017. .

Research Office Legislative Council Secretariat. Political System of Germany. Brussels, Germany: Research Office Legislative Council Secretariat, 2015.

Sigmar Gabriel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. German election: What you need to know about Germany's political parties CDU, CSU, SPD, AfD, FDP, Left Party, Greens. 24 September 2017. .

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