What’s at stake in next week’s crucial German elections?
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Next weekend, 61.5 million Germans will vote in an election that pollsters predict will be a massive victory and fourth term for the incumbent Bundeskänzlerin, the Christian Democrat Angela Merkel.
In spite of a disappointing debate between Merkel and SPD candidate Martin Schulz, the Socialists still hope to win the top prize.
Meanwhile the extreme right is trying to get seats in parliament for the first time since World War II on a wave of discontent over Europe and Immigration.
How will these elections work?
Germans don’t vote directly for the Bundeskänzler (Chancellor), but for political parties who then appoint their candidate. After the national elections, which take place every four years, the new members of the Bundestag ("Federal Diet" or lower house) are convened and a majority of a full quorum then appoints the Bundeskänzler.
In theory, the Bundestag has 598 seats.
Voters have to make two choices. On the left side of the ballot paper, they vote for a candidate in their constituency who will be directly elected into the Bundestag.
There are 299 constituencies in Germany, so that makes up half of the seats in parliament.
On the right side of the ballot, political parties in the 16 Länder (States) put their candidates and the winners will occupy the other 299 parliamentary seats.
Parties face a 5 percent voter threshold of the second votes in a state to qualify for a seat.
A complex calculation method of the number of votes can result in dozens of extra ‘balance seats’ aimed at maintaining proportionality, and as a result the current Bundestag has 631 seats instead of 598.
How are the parties represented?
Currently only five parties are represented in the Bundestag: the association of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and Horst Seehofer’s Bavarian Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) together good for 309 seats.
With the Social Democrats (SPD) of Martin Schulz (193 seats) these parties form the government coalition.
The small opposition within the Bundestag consists of Katja Kipping’s Left (Die Linke, 64 seats), and the Green Party (Die Grüne of Simone Peter and Cem Özdemir 63 seats).
At least two other parties from a mosaic of dozens that will participate in the elections and try to get over the five percent threshold to enter the parliament.
They are the extreme right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) of Frauke Petry and the liberals of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) under Christian Lindner, a party with a longstanding presence in the Bundestag that didn’t manage to get enough votes in 2013, but is now trying to come back.
Who are the main players and what do they stand for?
Angela Merkel (CDU)
Born 17 July 1954 in Hamburg, grew up in former East Germany. She attended the University of Leipzig, where she studied physics from 1973 to 1978, where she earned a doctorate.
She entered politics after the fall of the Belin Wall in 1989 and was appointed CDU Minister for Women and Youth by Helmuth Kohl in 1994.
She became the CDU’s first female party leader in 2000. In 2005, she was elected as Germany’s first female Bundeskänzlerin, heading a grand coalition CDU/CSU and SDP.
Merkel favours a free market economic agenda and tries to balance good ties with both the US and Russia. She was much criticized for her decision to let in hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were fleeing the Syrian civil war in 2015 and scepticism about Germany’s role as financer of Europe’s poorer regions, notably Greece.
Martin Schulz (SPD)
Schulz was born 20 December 1955. He left school without graduating, trained as a bookseller, overcame an alcohol problem and became the youngest mayor in North Rhine Westphalia in the town of Würselen before he entered the European Parliament in 1994 and later, from 2012 to 2017, its president.
He only became active in domestic policies in January, and as head of the Social Democrats launched his campaign to become Germany’s next Bundeskänzler.
However, the improving economy and a lacklustre performance at the only televised debate with Merkel saw him slip in the polls.
Alice Elisabeth Weidel (AfD)
Born on February 6, 1979 in Gütersloh, together with Alexander Gauland she is the lead 2017 general election candidate for Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
Flagbearer of the AfD since the beginning of this year, she replaced Frauke Petry, who fell out with the extreme right of this right-wing party and was side-lined, although she’s still party leader and eligible for a seat.
The AfD slipped in polls, but stabilized and seem to be heading towards becoming Germany’s third largest party.
The AfD was born in 2010 after Merkel agreed to send financial ‘rescue packages’ to Greece. Other key campaign elements: closure of borders, opposition to EU integration, hard line on Turkey.
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