I read a lot of articles on the German election today. What a freakin' mess! This is now way to run a government and it makes me appreciate our political system. At the risk of insulting the intelligence of my readers, I think it may help many (including myself) if I break it down:
The German parliament is called the Bundestag. It currently has 617+ seats (this often flucuates for reasons that will be covered later), thus a political party or a coalition of parties need to have a little more than 300 seats in order to rule. The Chancellor is chosen by a majority vote of the Bundestag, much the way our House of Representatives elects a Speaker, thus if one party doesn't win more than 300 seats, political deals become vital. So, here's what happened in this weekend's election:
Christian Democrats (Merkel): 225 seats
Socialist Democrats (Schroeder): 222 seats
Free Democrats (Free-Market Capitalists): 61
Green Party (Environmental Wackos): 55 seats
Left Party (Commies and extreme nutjobs): 54 seats
So as you can see, no one party got over 300 seats, so a coalition must be formed. The Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats get along and would gladly form one, but that's only 286. The Socialist Democrats and the Greens like each other, but together they only make 277, and all four parties agree on one thing: they'd rather die than work in a coalition with the Left Party. The Christian Democrats said they would consider forming a coalition with the Greens; the Greens said forget it. The Socialist Democrats said they would consider a coalition with the Free Democrats who quickly told them to go pound sand. Thus, the only option left is what is known as a "Grand Coalition" in which the Christian Democrats and the Socialists Democrats would join together. This hasn't happened since the 1960s and is never an ideal form of government unless you like gridlock. The problem they're running into now is that both Merkel and Schroeder are saying they deserve to be Chancellor in such a coalition.
So what now? Well, the law states the Bundestag has three tries to elect a Chancellor. If they fail after two votes, the German Constitution says the Chancellor can be elected by a simple majority vote, which in this case would give the edge to Merkel. However, the President of Germany (a figurehead mostly, but crucial in this case) has the discretion to dissolve parliament and call for new elections if he feels the new Chancellor does not have the support of a majority of the Bundestag.
HOWEVER, this is complicated by the Dresden District and Germany's obscure "second vote" system. The election in Dresden was postponed to October 2nd because one of the candidates died recently. So, in order to give the fill-in candidate time to campaign, voting has been delayed for two weeks. While, it's only one seat, under the "second vote" system, Dresden could have as many as 4 seats.
When German's vote, they vote twice: once for a particular candidate and once for a particular party. It makes sense that if you like a candidate, you also like his party, but at times people split their votes. Thus, while a political party's candidates may not win so many seats, the party itself may win enough votes that it is determined that they deserve more seats in the Bundestag. These seats are called "overhang" seats. Therefore, all eyes are on Dresden. If enough people vote for the Socialist Democratic candidate and the party, Schroeder could have a majority of one. But again, it could be a mute point if President Horst Kohler decides it's hopeless and calls for new elections. Kohler is, for what it's worth, a conservative.
Is this the mosted F'd-up thing you've ever seen? Don't even ask how long it took me to write all this. Any one of these variables could change and Merkel is currently trying to fight off a party leadership challenge. Stay tuned...