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InDepth – German Bundestag could expand again after elections

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Berlin (dpa) – The next German parliament could be even bigger than the current one, according to a leading election researcher.

Based on the latest polls, Robert Vehrkamp from the Bertelsmann media group estimates that the number of Bundestag lawmakers could be between a range of 672 to 912. An average scenario would be 810.

The outgoing Bundestag has 709 members – already the largest ever.

The theoretical standard size of the Bundestag is 598 MPs. But this can increase considerably due to Germany’s dual-voting system.

Each voter makes two crosses on their ballot paper: in the first vote, they vote for a specific named candidate in their constituency; in the second vote they vote for a party. The second vote is in many ways more important as it determines the overall distribution of seats in the Bundestag between the parties.

This system means that a party may gain more direct mandates – via the first votes – than it would otherwise be allocated according to the second votes. To maintain proportionality among the parties on the basis of the all-important second votes, additional seats are then given to other parties. The other parties receive such compensatory seats until each party has the correct number of seats reflecting its share in the second vote.

This means that it is often not clear until after the final results come how many people will be in the Bundestag.

Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of Germans think the Bundestag is already too big, a survey revealed on Saturday.

In a survey conducted by the opinion research institute YouGov on behalf of dpa, 71 per cent said that the parliament has too many members. 11 per cent said they thought the number of seats was just right. Only 3 per cent said the Bundestag should be enlarged.

Armin Laschet: Conservative scrambling to sell continuity ticket

Armin Laschet . EPA-EFE/SEAN GALLUP / POOL

As the leader of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) since January and a natural successor to Angela Merkel, Armin Laschet initially had the strongest claim to be Germany’s chancellor after the September elections. 

The son of a miner and a lawyer by training, Laschet had already indicated he plans to continue Merkel’s legacy – “16 good years” as he refers to them – and tread a path firmly in the political centre. 

However, the CDU and their Bavarian-based CSU sister party have suffered a sharp slump in opinion polls amid frustration over the extended coronavirus lockdown and a series of political scandals and campaign gaffes. 

Though the premier of North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state and its industrial heartland, has the overwhelming support of the CDU party leadership, the 60-year-old Laschet also has a severe popularity problem among the electorate.

Polls have consistently indicated he would even lose against potential rivals from less popular opposition parties if Germany elected its chancellor directly. 

A practising Catholic, Laschet – a father of three – initially wanted to be a journalist, then moved into publishing before switching to politics. He is also a fluent French speaker.

A member of his circle has been linked to the conservative Catholic Opus Dei organization, according to media reports. But Laschet stands for liberal Catholicism and has said his party’s “core brand” is not the conservative but the Christian image of man.

Laschet has tended to present himself as a cheerful politician who is rooted in the region’s culture, a fan of the annual carnival and supporter of the local football team, the fourth-division Alemannia Aachen.

He is a fan of TV series, he once told an interviewer. His son, meanwhile, has made a name as a fashion blogger and reportedly advises his father on style issues.

A former member of both the German and European parliaments, Laschet held several ministerial portfolios in North Rhine Westphalia before leading the CDU to victory in the state in the 2017 election. One of the main arguments in his favour is his extensive experience in state – but not national – government.

A strong European, he is seen in the CDU as more inclined to building a consensus than confrontation. 

But he has not shied from political controversy, for example vocally backing Merkel’s decision to allow around 1 million stranded migrants into the country during Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015. 

More recently, the cigarillo-smoking politician has come under fire for his handling of the coronavirus crisis – an area in which his main rivals Annalena Baerbock of the Greens and Olaf Scholz of the centre-left SPD have fared better.

Laschet at times has appeared to struggle to portray a steady hand during the crisis due to a number of serious outbreaks in his home state and changes to his position as to how to deal with the pandemic.

Gaffes including being caught on camera laughing at a joke while the country’s president was giving a sombre speech in the flood-stricken town of Erftstadt in July have also cost him.

“It was stupid and shouldn’t have happened and I regret it,” he told public broadcaster ZDF. “I am sorry, I can’t say much more.” 

Olaf Scholz: Pragmatic face of ascendant Social Democrats

Olaf Scholz – EPA-EFE/HAYOUNG JEON / POOL

A solid campaign performance by Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister and deputy to Chancellor Angela Merkel, has seen him unexpectedly become the clear favourite to succeed his boss after her upcoming retirement.

“A new era is beginning, not just in the sense of shaping the period after the coronavirus, but also in terms of how we manage in the next decade the future of our country, how we manage the future of Europe,” Scholz said last year following the announcement of his candidacy to be chancellor.

Scholz stressed at the time that he was running to win, not to serve yet again in coalition under another chancellor.

Back then, winning an election seemed like a long shot.

His Social Democratic Party (SPD) suffered the worst electoral result in its history in 2017 with 20.5 per cent of the vote, and its numbers had slid further as junior coalition partner to Merkel’s conservatives.

Yet in recent weeks Scholz has experienced a remarkable turnaround: polls now place him about 5 percentage points ahead as the front-runner for the chancellorship, with Merkel’s CDU slipping behind.

After the 2017 election disappointment, Scholz could have counted himself lucky after being given two of the top portfolios in government.

Although he started his political career far on the left, the now firm moderate is the SPD’s most popular politician by far. Frequent attacks on him from the left of his own party have not dented his appeal.

During his time in government, the 63-year-old became the face of Germany’s multibillion-euro stimulus response to the coronavirus crisis, boosting his profile at a time when the country was searching for a future leader.

He referred to the massive package of economic measures as the “oomph” required to pull Germany out of the current recession.

Scholz joined the SPD in 1975 and was first elected to the Bundestag national parliament in 1998.

From 2002, he served a two-year stint as SPD secretary general, when he was dubbed the “Scholzomat” for his rather mechanical-sounding delivery as he attempted to explain former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s far-reaching labour and welfare reforms to an at-times sceptical public.

A trained lawyer, Scholz served in 2007 as labour and social affairs minister in Merkel’s first coalition government with the SPD.

Four years later, he headed to Hamburg, where he became the city’s mayor. His term there was overshadowed in 2017 by the violent demonstrations launched by anti-capitalist protesters at the G20 summit.

He more recently served as the calm face of a party in crisis following the 2017 general election, including a two-month tenure as interim SPD leader.

Recently, Merkel’s conservatives have tried to claw back voters by raising the spectre of a left-wing government under Scholz, saying that if he prevailed he could team up with the hard-left Die Linke party.

For his part, Scholz said he envisions working with the Green Party, and has refused to rule out working with Die Linke despite repeated baiting by his rivals.

Scholz is now running for a seat in the Bundestag in Potsdam, outside Berlin, where the long-time Hamburg resident now lives.

Unusually, he is running in the same constituency as the Green Party’s chancellor candidate, Annalena Baerbock.

Scholz has family ties to the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds the German capital: His wife Britta Ernst has been education minister there since 2017.

Annalena Baerbock: Slip-ups mar Green leader’s pitch for ‘new start

Annalena Baerbock EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN

As a teenager, Annalena Baerbock was a competitive athlete – her favourite discipline to this day is trampoline jumping.

True to form, the 40-year-old co-chair of Germany’s Greens is currently taking the biggest leap of her life: As the party’s chancellor candidate, she is fighting it out for the country’s highest office.

It is the first time in its four-decade history that the Greens have presented their own candidate for chancellor in a federal election.

The Greens have made up the smallest parliamentary group in the Bundestag for the past four years, but the party’s fortunes have risen sharply in the polls since Baerbock and party colleague Robert Habeck took over as a telegenic duo in 2018.

As a candidate for chancellor, Baerbock embodies a major generational shift in the German political landscape: she is 26 years younger than incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel, and was born in the state of Lower Saxony in 1980, the year her party was founded.

Baerbock grew up in a left-wing household in a village south of Hanover and was often taken to anti-nuclear energy and anti-war demonstrations as a child. After graduating from high school, she studied politics and law in Hamburg and London.

From 2009 to 2013, she was a doctoral candidate in international law at the Free University of Berlin, but did not complete the degree.

The mother of two daughters has lived in the eastern German state of Brandenburg for a number of years. There she was state chairman of the Greens from 2009 to 2013, and was also elected to the Bundestag in 2013. So far, she has no experience in government.

In the race to determine which of the two party leaders would run for chancellor earlier this year, she prevailed against Habeck, who indicated that in addition to her qualities, the “women’s card” may have played a role in the choice.

After the announcement in April that Baerbock would be the election standard-bearer, the Greens experienced a surge in the polls and were briefly the strongest party in Germany. But the euphoria was brief, and the vote share soon dropped again.

Baerbock made negative headlines during this time: she belatedly reported special payments that she received from her party; inconsistencies were discovered in her official resume regarding her academic degrees, membership in clubs and organizations and an alleged job in Brussels.

Soon afterwards it emerged that in Baerbock’s newly-released book contained passages that had been taken from other works without citations.

News magazine Der Spiegel declared her candidacy “ruined,” and several intellectuals close to the Greens unsuccessfully demanded Habeck step in to replace Baerbock as the party’s candidate.

Despite the slip-ups, Baerbock’s pitch for a “new start” has captured voters’ imagination. Politically, Baerbock stands for a faster exit from coal-fired power generation, an increased expansion of renewable energies and an “active immigration policy.”

“What I have internalized through sport is the courage to constantly outdo yourself, to dare to do new things,” she writes in her official biography.

dpa

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