What does not fit is made to fit. This is a well-known saying, which is by no means intended to express that one wants to strive for a smooth solution to a problem; rather, the sentence expresses the opposite. If necessary, brute force methods are used. This is also how the first version of a planned electoral law reform that the traffic light parties want to implement reads. It was made public exactly one day before the start of a Bundestag commission that wants to devote itself to this very topic.
For some, this is an unfriendly act by the coalition. “It remains doubtful whether the discussion in Parliament through the traffic light is really desired, since a proposal is only communicated to the public before we can work on it together. The work of the electoral law commission is thus taken ad absurdum,” said Michael Frieser, legal adviser to the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, WELT.
What has the traffic light planned? According to a report by the “Frankfurter Allgemeine”, all overhang mandates should be eliminated in the future. Overhang mandates are those mandates that a party receives if it can send more directly elected MPs to the Bundestag than it is actually entitled to based on the result of the second vote. Because the first vote for direct candidates and the second vote for a party are offset against each other in the Federal Republic. At the same time, however, the rule applies that every directly elected candidate can enter the Bundestag.
It often happens that a party in a federal state has more direct candidates than it is entitled to. These are overhang mandates. Because this puts other parties at a disadvantage, they are compensated, so the others also get additional MPs – from their lists. And this until the relationship is “right” again. A complicated procedure that hardly anyone understands, but the result of which everyone understands: the Bundestag will be huge. It currently has 736 seats. And that after a reform that came into force shortly before the election.
The traffic light now wants to come under 600 seats. By doing without overhang mandates and compensatory mandates, this would be relatively easy. Only the constituencies with the most first votes would be counted. If, for example, the CDU had received an overhang mandate in a constituency, it would have been dropped. However, the constituency should not remain orphaned, which is why the traffic light suggests allocating the affected constituencies to another party, including so-called substitute votes.
That would mean that in this example it would no longer be the CDU, which actually got the most first votes, that would benefit, but the SPD, the Greens, whoever. The substitute vote would be a novelty, with it the voter would be able to tick his second preference for a direct candidate.
In the future, the ballot papers would no longer say: You have a total of two votes. Rather, you have three votes. You have to understand everything first.
One thing is certain: In no constituency can a voter be sure in future that the candidate with the most votes will also get into the Bundestag. This and much more also sparked criticism of the proposal. “It would be a fatal signal to diminish the importance of the directly elected MPs. The traffic light proposal violates both recognized principles of electoral law and the principle of democracy,” said Thorsten Frei (CDU), parliamentary director of the Union faction, WELT.
It shouldn’t be the case that the voters can’t estimate the success value of their vote. Fraser colleague Frieser sees it similarly: “This ultimately means a devaluation of the constituency idea and thus of the direct elements of democracy. The introduction of a substitute vote only exacerbates this problem, because the person already elected is even excluded from that vote.”
The Union had already refused a reform in the last legislative period that provided for the elimination of direct mandates on a large scale. This idea was mainly supported by the Greens. In the black-red coalition at the time, a mini-reform was agreed that would no longer compensate for three overhang mandates, but all others would. In addition, the constituencies should be reduced from 299 to 280 from 2025. That’s pending.
But the traffic light doesn’t want to wait any longer. Of course, those parties that find it difficult to assert direct candidates in many parts of the country would benefit from the new electoral law. That would be Greens, FDP, the AfD above all. The CDU would certainly have disadvantages, especially the CSU, which often produces overhang mandates in Bavaria.
Only a simple majority is required to pass an electoral reform. The coalition alone could thus push through a change with its votes. But the alliance could be even bigger. Because the AfD applauds the traffic light proposal and declares that it has already demanded exactly this.
“We are pleased that the traffic light coalition has finally largely adopted our proposal, which we had already presented in the last legislative period,” said AfD right-wing politician Stephan Brandner. In any case, the reduction in size of the Bundestag can be achieved quickly, easily and with legal certainty.
But that is exactly what the smallest opposition party has its doubts about. Ironically, fundamental objections are coming from the left, which recently had to lose a lot of feathers in the direct mandates, especially in the East. Bundestag Vice President Petra Pau told WELT: “I will study the proposals thoroughly, the responsible committee will meet on this topic for the first time today. According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court in 2012, the proposal to eliminate direct mandates is unconstitutional.”
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