Historic elections

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Anke Reiffenstuel - The Philippine Star

Today, national elections are being held in Germany. In the German language, there is no difference between “election” and “choice” it is the same word (Wahl). And indeed, when elections are taking place, we, the voters, have the choice: to choose the candidate we feel best represented by, the candidates we trust to take on huge responsibilities for decision making and for shaping national politics in the best interest of the country and its people.

Out of the 80 million population of Germany, around 60.4 million people are eligible to vote in today’s elections. We don’t have a voter registration system like the Philippines does – in principle every citizen aged 18 and above can cast his vote in elections.

For today’s elections, this will be the first time after 16 years that Chancellor Angela Merkel is not running for re-election, this is probably the main reason why the world is excited about the outcome of today’s elections. After 16 years, a new chancellor and leadership will take over the government responsibility. Longer than one and a half decades, Angela Merkel has shaped Germany’s domestic and foreign policy, and has given Germany an impressive international weight and a voice that is being heard and highly respected worldwide.

Democratic elections have a long tradition and are well established all over the world. Democracy and a government that is chosen by the population in free and fair elections are achievements that were gained in long and hard struggles. Democracy, however, is not a spectator sport; on the contrary, active involvement and participation of the whole population are crucial to make democracies work. Like many other things today, achievements like democracy and free and fair elections are taken for granted, and their value and power are often underestimated. It is important to understand the power of a vote in order to make democracy successful. Casting a vote takes only a few minutes on election day, but the results have a substantial impact over years and on the life of everyone in the country.

The policy that is being made by the elected government and the decisions that are taken by the elected leaders shape the country and its role in the world. With Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany’s role in the world and its international responsibility have grown significantly.

However, in today’s elections in Germany, we do not elect a chancellor, but candidates of the various political parties who will obtain a seat in the Bundestag, the German parliament. These elected parliamentarians then elect the chancellor – usually the “chancellor candidate” of the party that secured the most votes.

Currently, there are 709 parliamentarians in the Bundestag, making the German parliament the second largest in the world. The new one is likely to have about the same number of representatives. The exact number depends on a rather complex and complicated system that takes into account both the vote for the candidate and the vote for the party. (In our system, everyone has two votes: one for a candidate and one for a political party.)

The seats in the parliament are attributed to the parties that succeed in the election – only parties that secure at least 5 percent of the overall votes will be represented in the Bundestag. Currently, it is six parties, and most likely these parties will also win seats in the new parliament: the Christian Democratic Union and its sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Party (CDU/CSU), the Social Democrats (SPD), the Liberals (FDP), the Green Party, the Left Party and the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Several live-TV debates of the chancellor candidates took place in the past weeks and provided a good overview of the positions of the different candidates and parties on crucial issues.

According to the latest polls, the Social Democrats are in the lead, with Olaf Scholz as candidate for chancellorship, closely followed by the CDU/CSU with Armin Laschet and the Green Party with Annalena Baerbock.

As in all previous elections, no party is likely to achieve the absolute majority of more than 50 percent of the seats in today’s election, and coalitions of at least two parties are the usual government format in Germany. Once the election results are confirmed, the parties take up negotiations for coalition building, as well as for a roadmap with the political agenda for the next four years (until the next elections). Based on the most recent election surveys, no two-party alliance is expected to win a majority, and there will be several three-party coalition options to explore. This might take quite some time.

After the last Bundestag election in 2017, it took six months for the new German government to take shape. Political parties with different programs, priorities and positions on issues of domestic and foreign policy, on economy and trade, social security and health system, environment protection, digitization, education, etc. have to negotiate with each other until a joint program is agreed upon and officially signed. Until then, the outgoing government remains in office in a caretaker role.

However, no matter how the new government and coalition will look like, Germany will remain a reliable and responsible international partner, standing up for democratic values, promoting the rules-based international order, rule of law and human rights and committed to do its part in addressing global challenges like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Anke Reiffenstuel is the German ambassador to the Philippines.

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