Germans are heading to the polls on September 24 for a federal election which will decide whether the incumbent chancellor, Angela Merkel, is granted a fourth four-year term in power.

Each voter will have two votes, one for district representative and one for a party to enter the Bundestag.
Each voter will have two votes, one for district representative and one for a party to enter the Bundestag. (AP)

Who can vote?

This year, 61.5 million people age 18 and above are eligible to vote in Germany's general elections, according to figures from the country's Federal Statistics Office.

Of those, 31.7 million are women and 29.8 million are men. There are around 3 million first-time voters. 

Voter apathy has been evident in recent German elections. The last parliamentary poll in 2013 saw a decrease in voter turnout to around 70 percent.

However, the figure is expected to increase this year due to the rise of the populist movement in the country. 

The EUs most populous country, Germany had 82.8 million inhabitants at the end of 2016, including 10 million foreigners.
The EUs most populous country, Germany had 82.8 million inhabitants at the end of 2016, including 10 million foreigners. (Reuters)

Why do they have two votes?

The voting system for federal elections uses what is called personalized proportional representation.

Voters cast two votes. The first one is for a candidate in their regional constituency. The second is for a party list.

A voter can vote for a constituent from one party, but then vote for another party's list, effectively splitting their vote.

The constituent winners and winning party lists are combined to make up the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament.

What is the Bundestag?

Germany has two houses of parliament, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat.

The Bundestag is often described as a lower house which is tasked with electing the chancellor, law-making and acting as a check on the government.

The usual number of seats in the Bundestag is 598. However the number is not fixed. In 2013, a further 33 seats were created to fairly reflect the outcome of the vote, under the dual voting system.

Currently, five parties are represented in the Bundestag: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU and its Bavarian sister-party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Left Party and the Greens.

What does a party require to enter the Bundestag?

A party must hold at least five percent of the overall vote to be able to seat any of its winning candidates in the Bundestag.

Who elects the chancellor?

German voters do not directly elect the chancellor. Bundestag members do.

An absolute majority of the Bundestag's members is required to elect a chancellor.

There is also a president, a largely symbolic head of state, currently Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister who was sworn in in March 2017.
There is also a president, a largely symbolic head of state, currently Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister who was sworn in in March 2017. (Reuters)

Is there a limit to the number of terms in office?

No there isn’t. But to date, no chancellor has served more than the 16 years Helmut Kohl served as chancellor from 1982 to 1998.

If the CDU wins the majority of the vote in the election, Merkel could continue as chancellor for another four years, her fourth term.

Who are the key parties?

Seven parties are expected to enter the Bundestag. But only two, the CDU and Martin Schulz's Social Democratic Party (SDP) have any real chance of winning the office of chancellor.

The CDU/CSU alliance

Merkel’s CDU has held the chancellor's office for 48 years since the Federal Republic of Germany was formed in 1949.

The CDU traditionally forms an alliance with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

They share seats at the federal level, but are independent of one another beyond the federal level.

The CDU favours a strong welfare system, an increase in security and lower taxes. The CSU tends to be more socially conservative than the CDU, and has a tougher immigration policy.

Merkel has come under criticism for her open door refugee policy.
Merkel has come under criticism for her open door refugee policy. (Reuters)

Social Democratic Party (SDP)

The SDP is a centre-left party that currently is the CDU's main opposition for votes. But the party is ideologically close enough to the centre-right CDU to allow for cooperation in parliament.

The SDP at present is the CDU’s junior coalition partner in a 'grand coalition'. It has been led by Merkel’s main rival Martin Schulz, the former president of the European parliament, since March. 

Established in 1863, the SDP is Germany's oldest political party.

It has a focus on greater social justice and promises labour and welfare reforms.

The SDP is expected to win around 25 percent of the overall vote, and analysts believe the most likely outcome is another coalition with the CDU/CSU.

The right-wing, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is gaining ground with its anti-immigration agenda and is expected to enter the federal parliament for the first time.
The right-wing, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is gaining ground with its anti-immigration agenda and is expected to enter the federal parliament for the first time. (Reuters)

Is a coalition inevitable?

The Germany’s proportional representation system makes absolute majorities rare. 

Therefore, the struggle to secure power doesn’t end on election day, but continues until the parties manage to form a coalition.

The current 'grand coalition' of the CDU and SDP could be tested if any of the minor parties achieve enough support to make an attractive partner.

The leader of the party that wins the most seats gets the first opportunity to build a government.
The leader of the party that wins the most seats gets the first opportunity to build a government. (AP)

Why does the EU care about the German election?

The European Union member countries care about the election, because any political instability in Germany, the most powerful voice in the union, could mean instability within the Eurozone. 

Germany dominates the body, mostly thanks to the size of its economy. It contributes money to the EU budget more than any other member.

Why does the UK care?

The UK has already decided to divorce the European Union. But this election could have a significant impact on how Brexit will proceed. 

Germany has traditionally been one of the UK’s closest allies in the EU. 

Merkel has said she would not compromise on certain key issues such as freedom of movement. But her stance is seen softer than Martin Schulz, who has vowed to impose the “hardest Brexit possible.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies