On Elections

How people elect parliaments

Final German election for 2017 may buck right-ward swing

After three earlier state elections and a dramatic federal election, the northwestern German state of Lower Saxony rounds out the nation’s 2017 electoral year this Sunday.

And the signs are that after a year of swings towards the political right in both national and state politics, this final German election could swing the other way.

The relative performance of the parties in the Lower Saxony election may impact on negotiations for a new German federal government, expected to consist of Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU-CSO party, the Greens and the Free Democrats.

And the final outcomes of the recent federal election and the Lower Saxony elections could for the first time make the Greens the nation’s most successful political party at joining governing coalitions.

The state Landtag of Lower Saxony was not due for an election until next year, but the 1-seat majority of governing coalition of the centre-left SPD party and the Greens was lost after a Green MP defected to the CDU.

image - Germany - Lower Saxony Landtag chamber.jpeg

The spartan chamber of the Niedersächsischer Landtag

The state parliament’s term is normally for five years, and a majority vote of the Landtag was required to call the election several months early.

Lower Saxony, like most German states, uses the mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system. 87 members of the Landtag are elected in single-member districts by plurality voting, and at least another 48 are appointed from party lists to bring about a party-proportional overall result.

Polls indicate that the state result will see the nation’s six main parties take seats. The Green and Free Democrat (FDP) minor parties are polling at around 10%.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is at around 7%, somewhat lower than their recent national score of 13% in the federal election.

The Die Linke (Left) party should also clear the 5% vote threshold to win seats.

The AfD – then newly launched – failed to make the 5% threshold at did not contest the last Lower Saxony state election in 2013.

But with the AfD and (outside of eastern jurisdictions) Die Linke parties not regarded as suitable coalition parties, on current polling the SDP and the Greens should remain in the best position to re-establish their joint government.

If so, the Greens will become Germany’s most successful party in terms of coalition membership, with roles in 11 of the nation’s 17 governments.

The Greens will be in a complex national political position, with memberships of seven different kinds of governing coalitions including:

  • leading a government with the CDU as their minor partners in Baden-Württemberg
  • as junior partners to the CDU in Hesse
  • as junior partners to the SPD in Lower Saxony, Bremen and Hamburg
  • in three-party ‘Jamaica coalitions’ with the CDU and the Free Democrats in Schleswig-Holstein and most likely at the national level
  • in a three-party coalition with the CDU and the SPD in Saxony-Anhalt
  • in a three-party coalition with the SPD and the Free Democrats in Rhineland-Palatinate
  • in a three-party coalition with the SPD and the Die Linke party in Berlin and Thuringia.

Germany - 2017 - Greens in governmentsIf the Greens can remain in office in Lower Saxony, and assuming the they enter the federal government in the weeks ahead at the expense of the SPD, the party would have places in the governments of 11 jurisdictions, compared to places in 10 governments each for the two major parties, the CDU-CSU and the SPD.

The Free Democrats would be participants in the federal and three state governments, and Die Linke present in two state governments.

The AfD, despite its growing electoral success, remains beyond the pale for coalitions with all the other five parties.

The variety of coalition options being undertaken across Germany at any one time explains why the main four German political parties tend to leave their options open regarding future coalitions, reducing the overall level of partisan animosity in German politics.

More reports:

Survey setback for Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Lower Saxony (Deutsche Welle, 13 October)


(Cover image: the Leineschloss building in Hanover; panoramia.com)

3 comments on “Final German election for 2017 may buck right-ward swing

  1. Oli
    October 15, 2017

    The AfD was founded a couple of months after the last Lower Saxony election and therefore did not contest it. Perhaps you are mixing it up with the Hessian election where the party got 4.1% of the vote?

    It is interesting to see it laid bare just how flexible the Greens can be with regard to possible governing coalitions, though. For all their success in joining governments they are still missing from 2 of the 16 state legislatures.

    • Malcolm Baalman
      October 15, 2017

      Years ago critics of the party proportional systems used to cite the position of the FDP – sitting in the middle of the German political spectrum when there were three parties – as being perpetually able to be the junior coalition partner to whichever of the major parties it chose. This, it was argued, undemocratically over-empowered the FDP and made them unaccountable to removal from government at elections. That judgement about models of democratic government formation can be debated at length, but in any case that era has moved on, the FDP no longer has that surety, and the German political landscape has become steadily more diverse.

  2. Pingback: Elections highlight role of PR in coalition-building | On Elections

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This entry was posted on October 15, 2017 by in German länder (states), Germany, MMP/British AMS.
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