Elections and Democracy: Germany’s Mixed Member Proportional System - The Peninsula Foundation (2022)

It is now well-established that the First Past The Post system of elections followed in Indian democracy is thoroughly unsuited to Indian conditions, as it is more feudal and less of democracy. The German mixed system is better suited to India to ensure a more representative system of elections and accountability.

When it comes to choosing an electoral formula, the world often takes extreme positions which range between any variant of the Majoritarian System or that of the Proportional Representation. Proportional representation, to a great extent, has been an apt choice for ethnically divided societies with scholars such as Arend Lijphart asserting that it would strengthen the consociational approach in the political system. Yet, it has been criticized for the unstable governments it may produce and its inability to connect a voter with its representative. On the other hand, Majoritarian systems while praised for their simplicity and ability to produce stable governments, lack inclusivity, and induce tactical voting due to wastage of votes. However, the Parliamentary Council of Germany structured a mid-point for the two extremes to meet, which was initially considered provisional but has remained unchanged. It follows the Mixed-Member Proportional System.

The Mixed-Member Proportional System combines First Past The Post (FPTP) system (Majoritarian System) with Closed-Party List System (Proportional Representation) and thereby, enables the formation of a Government that is inclusive, stable, and remains connected with the voters.

Understanding how MMP works in Germany

Elections and Democracy: Germany’s Mixed Member Proportional System - The Peninsula Foundation (3)

The Bundestag (the German Parliament), elected for a four-year term, has 598 seats, distributed among the 16 federal states in proportion to the states’ voting population. Out of the 598 seats, 299 seats are filled through the FPTP system and the other 299 through the Closed-Party List System. This means that every voter has two votes on the day of the election: a constituency vote and a party-list vote. The first vote of electors decides the 299 representatives to be elected through the FPTP system, won based on a plurality of votes, and the second vote decides the proportional number of seats each party would get in the national assembly.

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Once the FPTP seats are filled, the second votes are totalled. Those parties that obtained 5% of votes at the national level or have three representatives elected directly through the single-member constituencies are considered for the allocation of PR seats. The PR seats are allotted in proportion to each party’s vote share using the Sainte-Laguë formula.

The Sainte-Laguë formula divides the parties’ total votes using a series of divisors (i.e., 1,3,5,7,9….) to form a table of averages. The seats are then allotted to the parties with the highest averages in the table.

Elections and Democracy: Germany’s Mixed Member Proportional System - The Peninsula Foundation (4)

source: Washington university

Furthermore, these allotted seats are then subtracted from the respective party’s FPTP seats, and the remaining seats are the actual number of party-list seats allocated in the Bundestag. Often, the number of seats allocated to a party through FPTP is greater than those allocated through the Party List and these surplus seats are then kept by the party leading to an increase in the number of seats in the Bundestag for that governing year.

Implications of the electoral formula

  • Electoral participation

Over the years, scholars have suggested that Proportional Representation tends to increase the voter turnout in a country. This is said to stem from the fact that the disproportionality between the number of votes received and seats allotted is significantly lower thereby reducing vote wastage, which encourages more voters to go and vote. Unlike FPTP’s ‘winner takes all’ formula, PR provides a chance to even smaller parties to secure their representation in the legislative council. This encourages their support base to vote and at the same time provides an incentive to the party to not limit their campaigning to specific areas (Blais & Carty, 1990). Germany’s electoral participation was 78.5% in 1949 and escalated to 86%, 87.8%, 86.8%, 91%… in successive elections. The lowest turnout was in 2009 with 70.8% and escalated slightly to 76.2% in 2017.

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  • Gallagher index

The Gallagher index created by Michael Gallagher is a statistical analysis methodology used to measure an electoral system’s relative disproportionality between votes received and seats allotted in a legislature. While countries following the PR system do generally tend to do well, Arend Lijphart points out that the German system, which is a mixed system, does exceedingly well compared to pure PR variants.

Germany scored an average of 1.95 in the 2017 national elections and has consistently maintained a low average in terms of disproportionality in comparison to others. Their highest average was 7.83 for the year 2013. On the other hand, countries that continue to use FPTP such as Canada, Bangladesh, and India record pretty averages of 12.01 (2015), 21.38 (2001), and 16.06 (2019) respectively.

  • Representation

PR systems generally enable conditions for a more representative legislative council because political parties no longer restrict their discourse and activities to the interests of the dominant communities, given winning a plurality of votes is no longer a deciding factor in their pursuit to secure a seat in the parliament. This provides an incentive for them to look appealing to a larger voter base.

Germany has seen a steady increase in the percentage of women representatives in the Parliament, starting from 7% in 1949 to 31% in 2017. The need to encourage ethnic minorities to cast a vote provides an incentive to political parties to field candidates who are non-German in origin, and this has enabled the participation of candidates originating from Turkey, Poland, Austria, Romania, and so on.

  • Effects on the Far-Right

Lisa Harrison in her paper ‘Maximizing Small Party Potential: The Effects of Electoral System Rules on the Far Right in German Sub-National Elections’ writes that far-right or extremist parties see limited success at the national level elections, but they may play a significant role at the sub-national level elections. A major hindrance that keeps these far-right parties away from the Bundestag is Germany’s minimum threshold of votes policy, which allows only those parties that have won 5% votes or 3 FPTP seats to claim representation in the parliament.

This however changed in 2017 when Alternative for Germany became the first nationalist far-right party to secure seats in the German Parliament since World War II. They received 12.6% of votes, translating into 94 seats in the Bundestag. The rise of the party coincides with the rise of hate crimes against immigrants. In March 2021, it was reported that Germany’s domestic intelligence forces have kept the party under surveillance on the suspicion of trying to undermine the democratic constitution.

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Conclusion

Elections and Democracy: Germany’s Mixed Member Proportional System - The Peninsula Foundation (5)

Electoral systems don’t come up in a vacuum. Rather, they are selected and implemented within the socio-political conditions of a particular nation. This implies that there is no electoral system that is universally applicable. Depending upon the suitability, countries could either side with the Majoritarian system or the Proportional Representation system or could apply both, as in the case of Germany. Germany’s Mixed-Member Proportional System catered to the needs of a constituent assembly which was divided over the question of an apt electoral system and at the same time has continued to do the two things that the constituent members hoped for, maintain stability and remain inclusive.

As India enters the 75th year of its independence, and as the world’s largest democracy, its electoral experiences of the last seven decades point to the unsuitability of the present FPTP system. Given the large population and the diversity of India, the FPTP system has proved to be a complete failure. The FPTP system does not truly reflect the principle of “one person one vote”, according to which each ballot should have ‘equal force’ in the sense of the share of seats in the parliament. Indian elections system has resulted in a skewed system of vote-bank politics, endemic corruption, and the feared majoritarian tyranny in the name of democracy. The German model of a mix of Proportional Representation and the FPTP system is what India needs at this to revive and strengthen its democracy.

References:

Gallagher, M., & Mitchell, P. (2008). The Politics of Electoral Systems (Illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press.

(Video) Dennis Pilon on proportional representation and small parties, ranked ballots, and more.

Zittel, T. (2017). Electoral systems in context: Germany. Oxford Handbooks Online. Published.

https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190258658.013.37

https://www.statista.com/statistics/753732/german-elections-voter-turnout/

https://www.tcd.ie/Political_Science/people/michael_gallagher/ElSystems/Docts/ElectionIndices.pdf

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/09/21/measuring-the-diversity-of-each-partys-candidates-in-the-german-election/

https://www.statista.com/statistics/753494/seat-distribution-bundestag-germany/

(Video) Why America Needs a New Electoral System

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/how-serious-is-germanys-far-right-problem/article30952770.ece

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-security-afd-idUSKBN2AV1M3

Feature Image: angusreid.org

FAQs

Is Germany Mixed Member Proportional? ›

The Bundestag, Germany's parliament, is elected according to the principle of proportional representation. In some cases, this system is also referred to as mixed member proportional representation.

What is the mixed member proportionality system? ›

Mixed-member proportional representation (MMP or MMPR) is a mixed electoral system in which voters get two votes: one to decide the representative for their single-seat constituency, and one for a political party.

How does the MMP voting system work? ›

Under MMP, New Zealand voters have two votes. The first vote is the electorate vote. It determines the local representative for that electorate (geographic electoral district). The electorate vote works on a plurality system whereby whichever candidate gets the greatest number of votes in each electorate wins the seat.

Is Germany a two party system? ›

The Federal Republic of Germany has a plural multi-party system. The largest by members and parliament seats are the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), with its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).

What are the types of proportional representation? ›

The most widely used families of PR electoral systems are party-list PR, used in 85 countries, mixed-member PR (MMP), used in 7 countries, and single transferable vote (STV), used in Ireland, Malta and Australian Senate.

Why is Germany considered a parliamentary democracy? ›

Head of government

They are elected by and responsible to the Bundestag, Germany's parliament. The other members of the government are the federal ministers; they are chosen by the Chancellor. Germany, like the United Kingdom, can thus be classified as a parliamentary system.

What is a mixed election? ›

A mixed electoral system or mixed-member electoral system combines methods of majoritarian and proportional representation (PR). The majoritarian component is usually first-past-the-post voting (FPTP/SMP), whereas the proportional component is most often based on party-list PR.

What is a mixed member majoritarian system? ›

Mixed member majoritarian representation (MMM) is type of a mixed electoral system combining majoritarian and proportional methods, where the disproportional results of the majoritarian side of the system prevail over the proportional component.

How does the additional member system work? ›

The additional member system (AMS) is a mixed electoral system under which most representatives are elected in single-member districts (SMDs), and the other "additional members" are elected to make the seat distribution in the chamber more proportional to the way votes are cast for party lists.

How does Germany's politics work? ›

Politics of Germany are based on a federal parliamentary democratic republic. The government is elected by the people in elections where everyone has an equal vote. The constitution is called the Grundgesetz.

How many parties does Germany have? ›

Germany has a multi-party system. There are two large parties, three smaller parties, and a number of minor parties.

What were the political parties in Germany in the 1920s? ›

List by abbreviation
  • ADB — Allgemeiner Deutscher Beamtenbund.
  • AfA — Allgemeiner Freier Angestelltenbund.
  • BB — Bavarian Peasants' League.
  • BVP — Bavarian People's Party.
  • Center — Catholic Center Party.
  • CNBL — Christian-National Peasants' and Farmers' Party.
  • DAF — German Labor Front.
  • DAP — German Workers Party.

When did MMP start? ›

In 1993 New Zealanders voted to replace their traditional first past the post (FPP) voting system with mixed member proportional representation (MMP). Eighteen years on, as Kiwis voted in a new electoral referendum, we explore how and why that dramatic reform came about.

Why did NZ change to MMP? ›

The campaign to change the country's voting system from first-past-the-post to MMP (mixed member proportional representation) was mounted by people who wanted a Parliament which was more responsive to different interest groups. The aim was also to curb the domination of the House by a majority party.

What are the advantages of being a member of Parliament? ›

Members of Parliament receive an Annual Allowance, an Electorate Allowance and other Benefits including travel, retirement travel and superannuation. Ministers and parliamentary office-holders receive a Salary.

What are the 3 different types of voting systems? ›

There are many variations in electoral systems, with the most common systems being first-past-the-post voting, block voting, the two-round (runoff) system, proportional representation and ranked voting.

What are the 4 methods of voting? ›

When the House is operating in the Committee of the Whole, all of these methods of voting are available except for the yeas and nays.
  • Voice vote. A voice vote occurs when Members call out "Aye" or "No" when a question is first put by the Speaker. ...
  • Division vote. ...
  • Yea and Nay Vote. ...
  • Record Vote.

Is proportional representation constitutional? ›

— U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIV, section 2

The Constitution provides for proportional representation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the seats in the House are apportioned based on state population according to the constitutionally mandated Census.

What was proportional representation in Weimar Republic? ›

Proportional representation - Each party got the same percentage of seats in parliament as the percentage of votes it received in an election. This meant there were lots of small parties in Parliament making it difficult to pass laws and led to weak and often short-lived governments.

Does France have proportional representation? ›

Electoral system

For elections to the European Parliament and some local elections, proportional voting is used.

Is proportional representation constitutional? ›

— U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIV, section 2

The Constitution provides for proportional representation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the seats in the House are apportioned based on state population according to the constitutionally mandated Census.

Is Germany a republic country? ›

Germany is a federal, parliamentary, representative democratic republic. Federal legislative power is vested in the parliament consisting of the Bundestag (Federal Diet) and Bundesrat (Federal Council), which together form the legislative body.

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