Everything you need to know about the German elections

After 16 years of Angela Merkel’s stable leadership in Europe’s biggest economy, the Germans will go to the polls on Sunday (26) to choose a new chancellor.

The vote will define the new names of the Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will try to secure a majority in parliament by negotiating with other parties, and then become the new or new chancellor of Germany.

Merkel leaves office with high popularity: 80% of Germans approve of her government. However, his party leader, Armin Laschet, does not seem to have the same charisma and has had difficulty winning over the electorate during the campaign.

The dispute intensified in the final stretch, when the margin between the two parties leading the survey narrowed. The latest opinion polls show that the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has narrowed its lead over the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel’s centre-right party.

A survey commissioned by German broadcaster ZDF shows the SPD in first place, with 25%, and an increase in the CDU, which is just behind, with 23% of voting intentions.

Another poll also published this Friday, commissioned by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, indicates an even fiercer dispute between the SPD (26%) and the CDU (25%).

Merkel’s CDU led the race for most of the campaign, until the end of August, when the SPD took the lead. The center-left party has maintained a comfortable lead in recent weeks, but that advantage has narrowed and is now within the 2.5% margin of error in polls.

According to Politico, which compiles data from the main polls, the Greens appear in third with 16%, followed by the liberal FDP and the nationalist right AfD, both with 11%. The Left comes in with 6%.

who are the candidates

Favorite in the polls, SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz is the current finance minister and deputy chancellor of Germany. The 63-year-old lawyer is regarded as pragmatic and experienced. Scholz was first elected to the Bundestag in 1998; he held the post of Minister of Labor and was once mayor of Hamburg.

Armin Laschet, Merkel’s successor to the leadership of the CDU/CSU, is governor of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia. His popularity plummeted after the July floods, which hit his state hard, especially as he was caught laughing while visiting one of the cities devastated in the catastrophe.

The Green Party, which defends environmentalist and progressive causes, is led by Annalena Baerbock, considered to be at the center. She led the polls between April and May, but her image was damaged when she was involved in scandals and accusations of plagiarism and alleged malfeasance.

Possible coalitions

As with all German governments since the end of World War II, the next government is likely to be formed by a coalition of two or three parties.

While the SPD is leading, the most likely scenario is a coalition between the centre-left party, the Greens and the liberals of the FDP – a bloc dubbed the “traffic light” because of the parties’ red, green and yellow colors.

If the CDU/CSU Conservatives were victorious, it would most likely be a coalition between the CDU/CSU, the Greens and the FDP – called the “Jamaica Coalition”, due to the black, green and yellow colors of the parties, and with Armin Laschet as chancellor.

Other configurations are possible, including a repeat of the current government between CDU/CSU and SPD, called “grand coalition”, or an alliance between these two and a third party, which could be the FDP or the Greens.

A coalition involving the SPD and the Left Party is also possible. In the final stretch of the campaign, Merkel expressed concern about the possibility of a more left-wing government, saying it would undermine the stability of her country.

Main questions

The Covid-19 pandemic was one of the main issues of debate in Germany ahead of the elections. A German biotechnology company, BioNTech, developed in partnership with the American Pfizer a vaccine against Covid-19 less than a year after the start of the pandemic. However, vaccination against coronavirus is still an issue in the country, which has 63.7% of the population fully immunized.

There is a debate in the country about the rules that should be adopted for the rest of the population that is not yet vaccinated: can they go to restaurants, concerts, cinemas, etc., without restrictions or test presentations?

The weather was also an important topic in the German electoral debate. After three years of very high temperatures, Germany had a rainy summer in 2021. In July, heavy storms caused flooding that caused 180 deaths and massive destruction in the west of the country.

The issue of immigration returned to the agenda in 2021, due to the crisis in Afghanistan, which caused a mass flight of people who want to escape the new Taliban regime in the country.

When will the results be known?

Exit polls will be released soon after the polls close, at 6 pm in Berlin (1 pm in Brasília). Then, the first projections are published, which take into account the counting of the first votes. Projections are updated as the count takes place. The winners and losers can be known in the hours following the vote, depending on what the projections indicate, as was the case in the 2017 election.

However, negotiations for the formation of the governing coalition could take weeks, as was the case in 2017.

How do elections work in Germany?

Every four years, the Germans choose the members of the Bundestag, the Federal Parliament of Germany, and consequently a new chancellor. All citizens of the country are eligible to vote from the age of 18, and voting is not mandatory. In this year’s elections, 60.4 million German voters will be able to go to the polls.

Germans can send their vote by post or vote in person on election day. In the 2017 election, more than a quarter of voters opted for this modality, and voting by mail is expected to break a record this year in the country, due to the pandemic. For this, they must fill out a paper ballot, making two choices:

On the first vote, they choose one of the local candidates from their constituency. The most voted candidate in each of the 299 constituencies is guaranteed a seat in Parliament. Therefore, half of the 598 Bundestag seats are defined by this vote.

The other half is defined by the second vote, in which voters choose one of the lists of political parties from the 16 German states. This vote determines the percentage of seats each party will have in the Bundestag. But to have representation in Parliament, parties need to reach a minimum of 5% of the votes in the election – a rule that, in addition to barring the entry of small parties, helps to avoid political deadlocks.

With these two votes, at least 598 members of the Bundestag are elected. The number of seats may increase under certain circumstances. The current parliament, elected in 2017, has a total of 709 members, the largest number in German history.

After counting the votes, the seats are distributed among the parties in proportion to the votes obtained in the voters’ second choice. The distribution also takes into account the allocation of seats for each state depending on the size of their populations.

As it is very difficult for one party to win the majority of Parliament on its own, the parties then need to negotiate to form a government coalition, which must contain the majority of parliamentarians.

Chancellor candidates are the leaders defined by party conventions months before elections. Parliament is expected to meet within a month after the results are released, and the group of parties that has the majority will lead the government.

The post of chancellor has the most power in Germany. The president, as head of state, has a higher hierarchical function, but his role is largely ceremonial.