The Union rejects the push from the traffic light coalition for electoral law reform – and announces a counter-proposal. Union parliamentary group leader Friedrich Merz complained in the “Welt am Sonntag” that the traffic light had “terminated the original agreement on joint action” with the proposal submitted by three MPs in the middle of the week. This means that his group is free to make its own proposal.
What Merz has in mind – “a real two-vote right to vote” – is not new. He himself advocated it two years ago, and there is a large group of supporters for the model in his group. It is commonly known as the “trench system”. Half of the deputies in a parliament are determined by majority voting in constituencies, the other half by proportional representation via party lists.
In the Bundestag there would then be 299 directly elected Members and 299 nominated by list. The normal size of 598 seats would be maintained, there would be no overhangs and compensation mandates. The enlargement of the Bundestag laid out in the current electoral system would be avoided.
At first glance, the trench system is similar to the current German electoral law – in the “personalized proportional representation”, which has been used since 1949, however, the direct mandates won are counted towards the lists, which leads to the problem of overhangs when a party receives more constituency mandates than she is actually entitled to with her share of second votes.
The trench system is only used in a few countries, including for the election of the State Duma in Russia, but also in Ukraine and Italy. It favors parties that win many direct mandates without these parties necessarily dominating. A clear absolute majority in parliament can be achieved with significantly less than half of the votes. In the 2021 Duma election, the Putin party “United Russia” received 49.8 percent of the votes, but thanks to a large number of direct mandates (198 out of 225) more than 70 percent of the seats.
The FDP electoral law expert Konstantin Kuhle rejected the Merz initiative. “As usual, the Union is looking for an electoral law reform that will exempt itself from losing mandates,” he told the Tagesspiegel succeed in downsizing the Bundestag.”
Kuhle is the author of the traffic light proposal alongside Sebastian Hartmann (SPD) and Till Steffen (green). This also always ensures a size of 598 mandates, in that direct mandates with the weakest results are not allocated in the event of surpluses due to insufficient coverage by the second votes. In addition, a substitute vote is intended to ensure that constituencies in which the direct mandate does not go to the best voters are nevertheless represented by an applicant from another party.
Merz does not want to participate in the model – also known as the capping solution. “So it could happen that an elected member of parliament does not get into the Bundestag, but the second or third place gets the mandate. I can’t imagine that such a procedure would convince voters in Germany,” he says. Merz did not rule out a trip to Karlsruhe, but emphasized: “The debate should take place in parliament.” A constitutional complaint “is and remains the last resort”.
In the Bundestag, an electoral law commission made up of members of parliament and experts is currently trying to find a better electoral system in order to prevent the Bundestag from being constantly enlarged. Parliament currently has 736 MPs.