Germany passes new election law to help small parties

Thu Feb 21, 2013 2:05pm EST
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's parliament approved a new election law on Thursday that will help smaller political parties in September's federal poll, when Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) are tipped to remain the strongest force.

Merkel's party reluctantly had to draft new legislation after Germany's constitutional court struck down the previous law, which had strengthened the CDU in the last federal election in 2009.

But political analysts said it was difficult to predict whether the change would hurt Merkel's chances of being re-elected if there is a close result on September 22.

Opinion polls put her conservatives at more than 40 percent, well ahead of the main opposition center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

"The next parliament will be slightly larger and more democratic (due to the new law)," said Everhard Holtmann, a political scientist at the University of Halle.

"The CDU profited the most from the old rules but the SPD had an advantage at times as well."

Germany has a mixed-member proportional voting system under which voters cast two ballots: one directly for a candidate in his or her constituency and the second for a party. This second vote determines the distribution of seats in parliament.

But if a party wins more direct seats in a given state than it would theoretically get according to the percentage of second votes, the Bundestag lower house creates extra "overhang" seats.   Continued...

A general overview shows the plenary German lower house of parliament Bundestag during preparation works for the upcoming festivities to celebrate 50 years of the Elysee Treaty in Berlin January 18, 2013. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz