Was that memorable Friday morning in the Bundestag about a reform? Or rather a revolution? Or even an act of revenge? In any case, the debate on the new electoral law has been about political power. But while the traffic light coalition justified its law by ending a year-long debate on how best to fill seats in the Bundestag, the Union and the left saw one thing above all: abuse of power.
It had been foreseeable that things would get lively to heated since the traffic light coalition announced an amendment last Monday, with which it supplemented its draft law for electoral law reform, which had been known since January. Above all, the decision to remove the basic mandate clause in the electoral law, which has been in force for decades, led to a kind of shock reaction on the part of the left and the Union.
Up to now, three direct mandates have been enough to get into the Bundestag even if a party has not cleared the five percent hurdle. That’s why the left still has a parliamentary group – in 2021 it only had 4.9 percent nationwide, but had won three constituencies in Berlin and Leipzig.
At that time, the CSU was close to the second vote hurdle with 5.2 percent nationwide (almost 32 percent in Bavaria). But in view of 45 of the 46 Bavarian direct mandates, the net was wide.
Now it’s gone. A rare coalition could be seen on this historic Friday in the Bundestag. “They want to force left-wingers out of parliament and are questioning the CSU’s right to exist,” said Alexander Dobrindt.
The head of the CSU state group, obviously angry, spoke of “electoral manipulation” for the purpose of cementing the traffic light’s claim to power. “What we are witnessing here is not reform, but an act of disrespect for voters, opposition and democracy.”
Jan Korte, the parliamentary secretary of the left (who, unlike the CSU, did not receive any offers of kindness from the traffic light), acted even more furiously. He accused the governing coalition of “bigoted arrogance” and spoke of the “greatest attack on the cornerstone of democracy,” namely the right to vote. The traffic light acts “in the spirit of Orban and Kaczynski”, its actions are comparable to “the tricks of the Trump Republicans”.
Friedrich Merz did not speak in the debate. Only at the end did he get up, for a short intervention from his place as parliamentary group leader of the Union. He asked for the vote to be suspended, postponed by two weeks, in order to be able to negotiate again.
“All mechanics changed”
The aim: to withdraw the deletion of the basic mandate clause. Because that “changed the entire mechanics of the electoral reform”, with consequences “that we didn’t see at first”. Entire federal states (meaning: Bavaria) would then be without any direct mandate. And Merz threatened that his party would take every opportunity to change that again.
Rolf Mützenich – the SPD parliamentary group leader had also held back in the debate beforehand – answered calmly but directly. He went into talks behind the scenes in the past three weeks, among the faction leaders, including one-to-one talks. There was no broad consensus on this.
And according to the words of Mützenich, the Union had let it be known that it regards the basic mandate clause as a reason for action in Karlsruhe – as a “contrary to the system” part of the traffic light election law. So, with the unspoken consequence, the coalition scrapped them to make the law more constitutional.
End point regional party
The CSU in particular has made itself unpopular for years – not only at the traffic lights, but also in parts of the CDU – as a reliable brake on the electoral reform. FDP MP Konstantin Kuhle complained that every electoral law debate in recent years had “its end point” with the CSU. It cannot be the case that a regional party like the CSU, in view of its special position, dictates to the Bundestag what an election law should look like, said Britta Hasselmann, leader of the Greens parliamentary group.
But the traffic light was not only ready for revenge, but also willing to help. Haßelmann and Kuhle offered the Union to talk about whether and how the possibility of a list connection could solve the CSU’s problem after the law had been passed. But when it comes to the law itself, she is adamant. Friday’s “principal decision” should not be part of further compromises.
According to a Karlsruhe decision, census groups of competing parties for the purpose of circumventing the five percent hurdle are unconstitutional. But a way could probably be found that would be constitutional in view of the special situation in the CDU and CSU. Both parties do not compete in elections, the CSU has voluntarily limited itself to Bavaria, and there has been a parliamentary group in the Bundestag for decades
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