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Germany-The Electoral System





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Germany Index

The Basic Law guarantees the right to vote by secret ballot in direct and free elections to every German citizen eighteen years of age or older. To be eligible to vote, an individual must have resided in a constituency district for at least three months prior to an election. Officials who are popularly elected include Bundestag deputies at the federal level, Landtag representatives or senate members at the Land level, and council members at the district and local levels. Executive officials typically are not chosen in popular, direct elections; however, in a minority of municipalities the mayor is elected by popular vote. Elections usually are held every four years at all levels. Elections at the federal, Land , and local levels are not held simultaneously, as in the United States, but rather are staggered. As a result, electoral campaigns are almost always under way, and each election is viewed as a test of the federal government's popularity and the strength of the opposition. All elections are held on Sunday.

Voter turnout, traditionally high--around 90 percent for national elections--has been decreasing since the early 1980s. Voters are most likely to participate in general elections, but even at that level turnout in western Germany fell from 89.1 percent in 1983 to 84.3 percent in 1987, and to 78.5 percent in 1990. The 1990 general election was the first following unification; turnout was the lowest since the first West German election in 1949. The most consistent participants in the electoral process are civil servants, and a clear correlation exists between willingness to vote and increasing social and professional status and income. Analysts had been predicting a further drop in turnout, the result of increasing voter alienation, for the national election in October 1994; in fact, turnout increased slightly to 79.1 percent.

In designing the electoral system, the framers of the Basic Law had two objectives. First, they sought to reestablish the system of proportional representation used during the Weimar Republic. A proportional representation system distributes legislative seats based on a party's percentage of the popular vote. For example, if a party wins 15 percent of the popular vote, it receives 15 percent of the seats in the Bundestag. The second objective was to construct a system of single-member districts, like those in the United States. The framers believed that this combination would create an electoral system that would not fragment as the Weimar Republic had and would ensure greater accountability of representatives to their electoral districts. A hybrid electoral system of personalized proportional representation resulted.

Under the German electoral system, each voter casts two ballots in a Bundestag election. The elector's first vote is cast for a candidate running to represent a particular district. The candidate who receives a plurality of votes becomes the district representative. Germany is divided into 328 electoral districts with roughly 180,000 voters in each district. Half of the Bundestag members are directly elected from these districts. The second ballot is cast for a particular political party. These second votes determine each party's share of the popular vote.

The first ballot is designed to decrease the anonymity of a strict proportional representation system--thus the description "personalized"--but it is the second ballot that determines how many Bundestag seats each party will receive. To ensure that each party's percentage of the combined district (first ballot) and party (second ballot) seats equals its share of the second vote, each party is allocated additional seats. These additional party seats are filled according to lists of candidates drawn up by the state party organization prior to the election. Research indicates that constituency representatives in the Bundestag are more responsive to their electorate's needs and are slightly more likely to follow their constituents' preferences when voting than deputies chosen from the party lists.

If a party wins more constituency seats than it is entitled to according to its share of the vote in the second ballot, the party retains those seats, and the size of the Bundestag is increased. This was the case in both the 1990 and 1994 federal elections. After the 1990 election, the total number of seats in the Bundestag rose from 656 to 662. In 1994 sixteen extra seats were added, leading to a 672-member Bundestag; twelve of those seats went to Kohl's CDU and accounted for Kohl's ten-seat margin of victory.

One crucial exception to Germany's system of personalized proportional representation is the so-called 5 percent clause. The electoral law stipulates that a party must receive a minimum of 5 percent of the national vote, or three constituency seats, in order to get any representation in the Bundestag. An exception was made for the first all-Germany election in December 1990, with the Federal Constitutional Court setting separate 5 percent minimums for the old and new Länder . Thus, a party needed only to win 5 percent of the vote in either western or eastern Germany in order to receive seats in the Bundestag.

The 5 percent clause was crafted to prevent the proliferation of small extremist parties like those that destabilized the Weimar Republic. This electoral hurdle has limited the success of minor parties and consolidated the party system. Often voters are reluctant to vote for a smaller party if they are unsure if it will clear the 5 percent threshold. Smaller parties, such as the FDP, encourage voters to split their ticket, casting their first ballot for a named candidate of one of the larger parties and their second ballot for the FDP.

Small parties rarely win the three constituency seats that automatically qualify a party for parliamentary representation according to its overall share of the national vote. This rarity occurred in the 1994 national election. The Party of Democratic Socialism (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus--PDS), the renamed communist party of the former East Germany, won 4.4 percent of the national vote, an insufficient total to clear the 5 percent hurdle. The PDS surprised seemingly everyone, however, by winning four districts outright (all in eastern Berlin), entitling it to thirty seats in the Bundestag.

Germany holds no by-elections; if Bundestag deputies resign or die in office, they are automatically succeeded by the next candidate on the party's list in the appropriate Land . There are also no primary elections through which voters can choose party representatives. Rather, a small group of official party members nominates constituency candidates, and candidates appearing on the Land party lists are chosen at Land party conventions held six to eight weeks before the election. Party officials at the federal level play no part in the nominating procedure. Roughly two-thirds of the candidates run as both constituent and list candidates, thus increasing their chances of winning a legislative seat. If a candidate wins in a constituency, his or her name is automatically removed from the Land list. There is considerable jockeying among party factions and various interest groups as candidates are selected and placed on the Land lists. Placement near the top of the list is usually given to incumbents, party members of particular political prominence, or members who have the support of a key faction or interest group. Thus, aspiring politicians are quite dependent on their party, and successful candidates tend to evince loyalty to the party's policy platform. Candidates must be at least twenty-one years old.

Data as of August 1995



BackgroundAs Europe's largest economy and second most populous nation (after Russia), Germany is a key member of the continent's economic, political, and defense organizations. European power struggles immersed Germany in two devastating World Wars in the first half of the 20th century and left the country occupied by the victorious Allied powers of the US, UK, France, and the Soviet Union in 1945. With the advent of the Cold War, two German states were formed in 1949: the western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR). The democratic FRG embedded itself in key Western economic and security organizations, the EC, which became the EU, and NATO, while the Communist GDR was on the front line of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The decline of the USSR and the end of the Cold War allowed for German unification in 1990. Since then, Germany has expended considerable funds to bring Eastern productivity and wages up to Western standards. In January 1999, Germany and 10 other EU countries introduced a common European exchange currency, the euro.
LocationCentral Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, between the Netherlands and Poland, south of Denmark
Area(sq km)total: 357,022 sq km
land: 348,672 sq km
water: 8,350 sq km
Geographic coordinates51 00 N, 9 00 E
Land boundaries(km)total: 3,621 km
border countries: Austria 784 km, Belgium 167 km, Czech Republic 646 km, Denmark 68 km, France 451 km, Luxembourg 138 km, Netherlands 577 km, Poland 456 km, Switzerland 334 km

Coastline(km)2,389 km

Climatetemperate and marine; cool, cloudy, wet winters and summers; occasional warm mountain (foehn) wind

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Neuendorf bei Wilster -3.54 m
highest point: Zugspitze 2,963 m
Natural resourcescoal, lignite, natural gas, iron ore, copper, nickel, uranium, potash, salt, construction materials, timber, arable land
Land use(%)arable land: 33.13%
permanent crops: 0.6%
other: 66.27% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)4,850 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)188 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 38.01 cu km/yr (12%/68%/20%)
per capita: 460 cu m/yr (2001)
Natural hazardsflooding
Environment - current issuesemissions from coal-burning utilities and industries contribute to air pollution; acid rain, resulting from sulfur dioxide emissions, is damaging forests; pollution in the Baltic Sea from raw sewage and industrial effluents from rivers in eastern Germany; hazardous waste disposal; government established a mechanism for ending the use of nuclear power over the next 15 years; government working to meet EU commitment to identify nature preservation areas in line with the EU's Flora, Fauna, and Habitat directive
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - notestrategic location on North European Plain and along the entrance to the Baltic Sea
Population82,329,758 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 13.7% (male 5,768,366/female 5,470,516)
15-64 years: 66.1% (male 27,707,761/female 26,676,759)
65 years and over: 20.3% (male 7,004,805/female 9,701,551) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 43.8 years
male: 42.6 years
female: 45.2 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)-0.053% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)8.18 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)10.9 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)2.19 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 74% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 0.1% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.72 male(s)/female
total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 3.99 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 4.41 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 3.55 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 79.26 years
male: 76.26 years
female: 82.42 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)1.41 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: German(s)
adjective: German
Ethnic groups(%)German 91.5%, Turkish 2.4%, other 6.1% (made up largely of Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish)

Religions(%)Protestant 34%, Roman Catholic 34%, Muslim 3.7%, unaffiliated or other 28.3%
Languages(%)German

Country nameconventional long form: Federal Republic of Germany
conventional short form: Germany
local long form: Bundesrepublik Deutschland
local short form: Deutschland
former: German Empire, German Republic, German Reich
Government typefederal republic
Capitalname: Berlin
geographic coordinates: 52 31 N, 13 24 E
time difference: UTC+1 (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October
Administrative divisions16 states (Laender, singular - Land); Baden-Wurttemberg, Bayern (Bavaria), Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hessen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia), Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate), Saarland, Sachsen (Saxony), Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony-Anhalt), Schleswig-Holstein, Thuringen (Thuringia); note - Bayern, Sachsen, and Thuringen refer to themselves as free states (Freistaaten, singular - Freistaat)
Constitution23 May 1949, known as Basic Law; became constitution of the united Germany 3 October 1990

Legal systemcivil law system with indigenous concepts; judicial review of legislative acts in the Federal Constitutional Court; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage18 years of age; universal
Executive branchchief of state: President Horst KOEHLER (since 1 July 2004)
head of government: Chancellor Angela MERKEL (since 22 November 2005)
cabinet: Cabinet or Bundesminister (Federal Ministers) appointed by the president on the recommendation of the chancellor
elections: president elected for a five-year term (eligible for a second term) by a Federal Convention, including all members of the Federal Assembly and an equal number of delegates elected by the state parliaments; election last held 23 May 2009 (next scheduled for 23 May 2014); chancellor elected by an absolute majority of the Federal Assembly for a four-year term; Bundestag vote for Chancellor last held after 27 September 2009 (next to follow the legislative election to be held no later than 2013)
election results: Horst KOEHLER reelected president; received 613 votes of the Federal Convention against 503 for Gesine SCHWAN; Angela MERKEL reelected chancellor; vote by Federal Assembly 323 to 285 with four abstentions

Legislative branchbicameral legislature consists of the Federal Council or Bundesrat (69 votes; state governments sit in the Council; each has three to six votes in proportion to population and are required to vote as a block) and the Federal Assembly or Bundestag (622 seats; members elected by popular vote for a four-year term under a system of personalized proportional representation; a party must win 5% of the national vote or three direct mandates to gain proportional representation and caucus recognition)
elections: Bundestag - last held on 27 September 2009 (next to be held no later than autumn 2013); note - there are no elections for the Bundesrat; composition is determined by the composition of the state-level governments; the composition of the Bundesrat has the potential to change any time one of the 16 states holds an election
election results: Bundestag - percent of vote by party - CDU/CSU 33.8%, SPD 23%, FDP 14.6%, Left 11.9%, Greens 10.7%, other 6%; seats by party - CDU/CSU 239, SPD 146, FDP 93, Left 76, Greens 68

Judicial branchFederal Constitutional Court or Bundesverfassungsgericht (half the judges are elected by the Bundestag and half by the Bundesrat)

Political pressure groups and leadersother: business associations and employers' organizations; religious, trade unions, immigrant, expellee, and veterans groups
International organization participationADB (nonregional member), AfDB (nonregional member), Arctic Council (observer), Australia Group, BIS, BSEC (observer), CBSS, CDB, CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, G-20, G-5, G-7, G-8, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, Paris Club, PCA, Schengen Convention, SECI (observer), SICA (observer), UN, UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNMIL, UNMIS, UNRWA, UNWTO, UPU, WADB (nonregional), WCO, WEU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC
Flag descriptionthree equal horizontal bands of black (top), red, and gold; these colors have played an important role in German history and can be traced back to the medieval banner of the Holy Roman Emperor - a black eagle with red claws and beak on a gold field

Economy - overviewThe German economy - the fifth largest economy in the world in PPP terms and Europe's largest - began to contract in the second quarter of 2008 as the strong euro, high oil prices, tighter credit markets, and slowing growth abroad took their toll on Germany's export-dependent economy. At just 1% in 2008, GDP growth is expected to be negative in 2009. Recent stimulus and lender relief efforts will make demands on Germany's federal budget and undercut plans to balance its budget by 2011. The reforms launched by the former government of Chancellor Gerhard SCHOEDER, deemed necessary due to chronically high unemployment and low average growth, led to strong growth in 2007, while unemployment in 2008 fell below 8%, a new post-reunification low. Germany's aging population, combined with high chronic unemployment, has pushed social security outlays to a level exceeding contributions, but higher government revenues from the cyclical upturn in 2006-07 and a 3% rise in the value-added tax cut Germany's budget deficit to within the EU's 3% debt limit in 2007. The current government of Chancellor Angela MERKEL has initiated other reform measures, such as a gradual increase in the mandatory retirement age from 65 to 67 and measures to increase female participation in the labor market. The modernization and integration of the eastern German economy - where unemployment still exceeds 30% in some municipalities - continues to be a costly long-term process, with annual transfers from west to east amounting to roughly $80 billion. While corporate restructuring and growing capital markets have set strong foundations to help Germany meet the longer-term challenges of European economic integration and globalization, Germany's export-oriented economy has proved a disadvantage in the context of weak global demand.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$2.925 trillion (2008 est.)
$2.887 trillion (2007 est.)
$2.817 trillion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$3.673 trillion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)1.3% (2008 est.)
2.5% (2007 est.)
3.2% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$35,500 (2008 est.)
$35,000 (2007 est.)
$34,200 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 0.9%
industry: 30.1%
services: 69.1% (2008 est.)
Labor force43.6 million (2008 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 2.4%
industry: 29.7%
services: 67.8% (2005)
Unemployment rate(%)7.8% (2008 est.)
9% (2007 est.)
note: this is the International Labor Organization's estimated rate for international comparisons; Germany's Federal Employment Office estimated a seasonally adjusted rate of 10.8%
Population below poverty line(%)11% (2001 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: 3.2%
highest 10%: 22.1% (2000)
Distribution of family income - Gini index27 (2006)
30 (1994)
Investment (gross fixed)(% of GDP)19.2% of GDP (2008 est.)
Budgetrevenues: $1.591 trillion
expenditures: $1.591 trillion (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)2.7% (2008 est.)
2.3% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$NAnote: see entry for the European Union for money supply in the euro area; the European Central Bank (ECB) controls monetary policy for the 16 members of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU); individual members of the EMU do not control the quantity of money and quasi money circulating within their own borders
Stock of quasi money$NA
Stock of domestic credit$5.019 trillion (31 December 2008)
$4.457 trillion (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares$NA (31 December 2008)
$2.106 trillion (31 December 2007)
$1.638 trillion (31 December 2006)
Public debt(% of GDP)66% of GDP (2008 est.)
65.8% of GDP (2004 est.)
Agriculture - productspotatoes, wheat, barley, sugar beets, fruit, cabbages; cattle, pigs, poultry
Industriesamong the world's largest and most technologically advanced producers of iron, steel, coal, cement, chemicals, machinery, vehicles, machine tools, electronics, food and beverages, shipbuilding, textiles

Industrial production growth rate(%)0.1% (2008 est.)

Current account balance$243.6 billion (2008 est.)
$263.1 billion (2007 est.)
Exports$1.498 trillion (2008 est.)
$1.35 trillion (2007 est.)

Exports - commodities(%)machinery, vehicles, chemicals, metals and manufactures, foodstuffs, textiles
Exports - partners(%)France 9.7%, US 7.1%, UK 6.7%, Netherlands 6.6%, Italy 6.4%, Austria 5.4%, Belgium 5.2%, Spain 4.4%, Poland 4% (2008)
Imports$1.232 trillion (2008 est.)
$1.079 trillion (2007 est.)

Imports - commodities(%)machinery, vehicles, chemicals, foodstuffs, textiles, metals
Imports - partners(%)Netherlands 12.5%, France 8.3%, Belgium 7.5%, China 6.2%, Italy 5.7%, UK 5.4%, Austria 4.3%, Russia 4.2%, US 4.2% (2008)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold$138 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
$136.2 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external$5.158 trillion (31 December 2008)
$5.155 trillion (31 December 2007)

Stock of direct foreign investment - at home$1.027 trillion (31 December 2008 est.)
$1.002 trillion (31 December 2007 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad$1.407 trillion (31 December 2008 est.)
$1.249 trillion (31 December 2007 est.)
Exchange rateseuros (EUR) per US dollar - 0.6827 (2008 est.), 0.7345 (2007), 0.7964 (2006), 0.8041 (2005), 0.8054 (2004)

Currency (code)euro (EUR)

Telephones - main lines in use51.5 million (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular107.245 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: Germany has one of the world's most technologically advanced telecommunications systems; as a result of intensive capital expenditures since reunification, the formerly backward system of the eastern part of the country, dating back to World War II, has been modernized and integrated with that of the western part
domestic: Germany is served by an extensive system of automatic telephone exchanges connected by modern networks of fiber-optic cable, coaxial cable, microwave radio relay, and a domestic satellite system; cellular telephone service is widely available, expanding rapidly, and includes roaming service to many foreign countries
international: country code - 49; Germany's international service is excellent worldwide, consisting of extensive land and undersea cable facilities as well as earth stations in the Inmarsat, Intelsat, Eutelsat, and Intersputnik satellite systems (2001)
Internet country code.de
Internet users61.973 million (2008)
Airports550 (2009)
Pipelines(km)gas 24,364 km; oil 3,379 km; refined products 3,843 km (2008)
Roadways(km)total: 644,480 km
paved: 644,480 km (includes 12,400 km of expressways)
note: includes local roads (2006)

Ports and terminalsBremen, Bremerhaven, Duisburg, Hamburg, Karlsruhe, Lubeck, Rostock, Wilhemshaven
Military branchesFederal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr): Army (Heer), Navy (Deutsche Marine, includes naval air arm), Air Force (Luftwaffe), Joint Support Services (Streitkraeftbasis), Central Medical Service (Zentraler Sanitaetsdienst) (2009)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)18 years of age (conscripts serve a 9-month tour of compulsory military service) (2004)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 19,594,118
females age 16-49: 18,543,955 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 15,747,493
females age 16-49: 14,899,416 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 431,508
female: 409,111 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)1.5% of GDP (2005 est.)
Disputes - internationalnone

Electricity - production(kWh)593.4 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 61.8%
hydro: 4.2%
nuclear: 29.9%
other: 4.1% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)547.3 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)61.7 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)41.67 billion kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production(bbl/day)150,800 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)2.569 million bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)582,900 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)2.777 million bbl/day (2008 est.)
Economic aid - donorODA, $10.44 billion (2006)

Oil - proved reserves(bbl)276 million bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
Natural gas - production(cu m)16.36 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)95.79 billion cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)12.68 billion cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)175.6 billion cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)0.1% (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS53,000 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deathsfewer than 500 (2007 est.)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99% (2003 est.)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)(years)total: 16 years
male: 16 years
female: 16 years (2006)
Education expenditures(% of GDP)4.6% of GDP (2004)








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