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PostPosted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 4:09 am 
Avisaru
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The German federal election is in less than four months, on September the 24th, so inspired by Sal's excellent explanation of the UK election, I thought I might post an explainer.

The Basic Rules

Germany has a parliamentary system, which means that the Chancellor, who is the head of the federal executive, is dependent on the confidence of the Bundestag, the directly elected part of the federal legislature. (In German, the Chancellor is both officially and usually called the Federal Chancellor, which is one word in German.) The regular term of office for the Bundestag is four years. Under the constitution, an early election - that is, an election before the four years are over - is only allowed if a Chancellor loses a vote on a motion of confidence in the Bundestag. Therefore, when Chancellors want to hold an early election, they do that by intentionally losing a vote on a motion of confidence in the Bundestag. That has been done a couple of times; apparently, each time, some people complained to the Federal Constitutional Court that doing things that way was against the spirit of the constitution, and each time, the Federal Constitutional Court basically said "We don't like it, either, but no matter how it might relate to the spirit of the constitution, it's within the letter of the constitution, so there's nothing we can do." An early election automatically starts a new four year term. Anyway, the upcoming election is a regular election, not an early one.

German elections are proportional, that is, a party's share of the total vote in the election roughly determines that party's share of the seats in the elected institution. The details are a bit more complicated, but, having struggled with depression in the past, I think I'd rather keep my will to live by not trying to explain the details. The most important rule is that (aside from a few exceptions that I won't get into) a party needs five percent of the votes in the election in order to get any seats in the elected institution. That rule, however, does not apply in a number of local elections and in the elections for the German-elected part of the European Parliament.

People generally vote for parties rather than individuals; as a result, German legislators are very heavily dependent on their parties, and almost never vote against them. Generally, it wouldn't make much of a difference if German legislatures would be replaced with conferences of party chairs in which the party chairs would get multiple votes based on their party's share of the vote in the most recent election.

The Federal Council

In addition to the Bundestag, there's the Bundesrat, which translates as "Federal Council". It is not directly elected - it consists of cabinet members from the individual states. (Germany is geographically small enough and has a good enough transportation infrastructure to make that practical.) Each state has a number of votes based on its population. The Chancellor does not need the confidence of the Federal Council, although it can be annoying to try to govern with too much of the Federal Council against you. Not all bills need Federal Council approval - there's a long list of types of laws that need Federal Council approval, and another long list of types of laws that don't. Unlike most other places with bicameral systems, Germany doesn't have a special name for the legislature as a whole - in fact, the constitution treats the Bundestag and the Federal Council as two separate institutions, not as two parts of one institution.

Most of the time, you can safely forget about the individual steps in the process for "how a bill becomes a law" in Germany - in practice, the governing coalition agrees on a bill, then the bill gets formally introduced, and the rest is just formalities and maybe some fine-tuning. That, however, won't work if the bill is a federal bill for a type of law that needs Federal Council approval, and the federal governing coalition doesn't have a majority in the Federal Council (remember, the Chancellor doesn't need the confidence of the Federal Council).

The Federal President

Then there's the Federal President, not to be confused with the Chancellor. He (it has always been a man so far, though that's not a requirement) is the ceremonial head of state, comparable to the Queen in the UK, but (indirectly) elected and not in office for life. He gets to formally sign laws, formally sign the appointment certificates for the Chancellor and the federal cabinet members, formally set the date for the election of the Bundestag, formally receive foreign ambassadors, formally hand out medals, and generally do a lot of formal things. He's elected for a five year term by the Federal Assembly, which is a special institution that exists only for that purpose and consists to one half of all members of the Bundestag and to the other half of people appointed by the state legislatures. Unlike the Chancellor, the Federal President is term-limited to a maximum of two terms. If the office of Federal President is vacant, the President of the Federal Council becomes Acting Federal President until a new Federal Assembly has assembled and elected a new Federal President.

The States

Officially, Germany has a federalist system. I say "officially" because I don't really agree with that view myself. To me, the German political system looks more like something that was designed by people who wanted to design a federalist system and looked up in an encyclopedia what "federalism" is, but didn't really understand what they were reading. For instance, in the fields of policy left to the states, it's common for all states to coordinate (through conferences of heads of departments) so that they mostly all do the same thing. Which, in my opinion, sort of goes against the whole point of having a federalist system in the first place.

Anyway, in most cases, the head of the executive of a state is called a "Ministerpräsident", which is usually translated as "Minister-President", but I don't see why it shouldn't be translated as "Prime Minister" or "Premier" instead. The exception to that is that in the city-states (Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen) the head of the executive is the mayor. The political systems of the states mostly mirror the federal political system, except without a counterpart to the Federal Council. Also, the states don't have ceremonial heads of state - instead, the Prime Ministers and cabinet members of the states get their formal certificates of appointment from the presidents of the state legislatures.

A few of the states have existed in some form in more or less their current borders for a long time, but most were cobbled together from bits and pieces of earlier political entities by the Allies after World War 2. Therefore, some of them have awkward hyphenated names like "Nordrhein-Westfalen" (North Rhine-Westphalia) or "Baden-Württemberg".

Unlike in the USA, state legislative elections in Germany are separate from federal elections - they're mostly not in the same years, usually not at the same time of year (except by coincidence), and mostly not even at the same intervals - most state legislatures have five year terms, while the Bundestag (as mentioned above) has a four year term. Partly because of this, and partly because there are only sixteen states, which means that each state can get a bigger share of attention than in the USA, state legislative elections in Germany have an important function as signals. For instance, in 2005, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's governing coalition lost a number of state legislative elections, and eventually, the combined signal from them became strong enough that he called for an early federal election. One US politician once famously said that "all politics is local" - well, in Germany, it's arguably the opposite: most politics is national.

Parties

Political parties in Germany generally come in three sizes - big, small, and very small. If a big party gets 20 percent of the votes in an election, everyone will talk a lot about what a soul-crushing defeat that is for that party. If a small party gets 20 percent of the votes in an election, everyone will talk a lot about what an incredible triumph that is for that party. Meanwhile, very small parties can be happy about any votes they get. But the more important number for small parties (and for very small parties aspiring to become small parties) is five percent - as mentioned above, that's the minimum required to get seats in the Bundestag and the state legislatures. Germany has two or three (depending on how you count) big parties, currently about four small parties, and a lot of very small parties.

(Note to German speakers: I'll use terms like "center-right" or "more to the right than x" for the CDU and the CSU - that's because I'm writing in English. I wouldn't use the German word "rechts" to describe either of these parties, except perhaps when talking about a few individual embarrassing members. While technically, the German word "rechts" and the English word "right" mean the same thing, I think the former has a much stronger association with neonazis.)

The Big Parties

The CDU or Christian Democratic Union. The main center-right party in fifteen of the sixteen German states - all except Bavaria. Not active in Bavaria. Ranges from mellow centrists to people who are more conservative and in some cases quite openly nationalistic - although I don't know how many of that last group are left after the last few years. The party of current Chancellor Angela Merkel, which might be confusing for some English speakers, given how much she is seen as a heroine by some English speaking center-leftists these days, and given how much some English-speaking right-wingers seem to hate her these days. Apparently called a "union" rather than a "party" because when it was founded after World War 2, some of its founders associated the very word "party" with the Nazis, or the Communists, or both. Their political color is black.

The CSU or Christian Social Union. The main center-right party in Bavaria. Almost always governs Bavaria, and usually gets more than half of the seats in the state legislature there. Not active anywhere else, except for its participation in federal institutions. Cooperates with the CDU at the federal level, and has a joint "faction" (or caucus, or party conference, or however you want to call it) with them in the Bundestag. Generally seen as more conservative, more "folksy", and more heavily Catholic than the CDU. (In Germany, unlike in much of the English speaking world, Catholics are generally perceived as more culturally conservative than Protestants. ("Generally perceived", of course, doesn't necessarily mean that it's true.)) Strongly associated with beer halls, lederhosen, etc. Apparently called a "union" for the same reasons as the CDU. Their political color is usually black, though sometimes blue is used to distinguish them from the CDU.

(My own interpretation of the difference between the CDU and the CSU is that the CDU is a political party while the CSU is a folklore association, but that's just me.)

The SPD or Social Democratic Party of Germany. Traditionally the main center-left party in all sixteen states, although they've fallen behind the Greens in some places recently. Like the Democrats in the USA under Bill Clinton or Labour in the UK under Tony Blair, they moved to the center to win elections under Gerhard Schröder, to such an extent that the last time they led the federal government (1998-2005) is mostly remembered for a series of cuts to the welfare state. Oldest party in Germany - voted against Hitler's Enabling Act in 1933, which meant that after World War 2, they could just rebuild their party structures under the old name, while politicians more to the right than them had to found entirely new parties from scratch. Their political color is red.

The Small Parties

The Greens. They started out as something very similar to the similarly-named parties in other countries, but moved a good deal more to the center over time, with a lot of passionate internal arguments along the way. Then again, that process wasn't one-sided - the center itself has moved in a more environmentally-friendly direction since they were founded. You may guess three times what their political color is, and the first two guesses don't count.

Die Linke, that is, The Left. A rather pretentious name IMO, since I think that the left as a political camp is a lot bigger than that one party. They were originally the state party of East Germany under Communist rule. Then they changed their name a couple of times, and merged with a left-wing group that had split off from the SPD on one of those occasions. Now mainly the party of people who think the SPD and the Greens aren't left-wing enough, although some of those think that The Left isn't left-wing enough, either. Tend to support pretty much anyone who's in a conflict with the leadership of the West when it comes to international politics. Their political color is a deeper shade of red than the SPD‘s.

The FDP or Free Democratic Party. The party of those people who are called liberals in Germany, which means that by US standards, they're basically a kind of watered-down libertarians. Their rhetorics often sound like those of US libertarians (minus the gun stuff), and I don't doubt that some of them fantasize about building a libertarian utopia in their secret dreams, but their actual policies are a lot more moderate, mainly because as a small party, they don't get to dictate policy, only to nudge it a bit into their preferred direction. Their political color used to be yellow, and yellow-blue in contexts that allowed for more than one political color per party. A few years ago, they switched to magenta as part of a rebranding exercise, but most media outlets continue to paint their column yellow when showing election results.

The AfD or Alternative for Germany. (The lowercase f is theirs.) Hard Right. OK, to be fair to them, they did throw out that one guy who talked about how bad it is that Hitler is always just seen as a bad guy. [Very belated Edit and correction: No, they didn't actually throw that guy out. There was some talk of doing it, but nothing came of it. I had misunderstood the news. ] They started out as a moderately euroskeptic party - "moderately" in that they originally didn't even want to leave the EU, only the Euro. Then they jumped on the refugee issue when it became a big deal in 2015 (you can figure out yourself where they stand on that issue), and that allowed them to grow from a very small party into a small party, and will probably allow them to become the first hard right party to jump over five percent nationally and enter the Bundestag in a very long time. They're generally a lot stronger in the former East Germany than in the former West Germany, which is something they ironically have in common with The Left. Their political color is apparently blue.

The Very Small Parties

Germany has a lot of very small parties, ranging from neonazis to punks to Christian fundamentalists to New Age cultists to hackers to satirists, and apparently even a local branch of the LaRoucheites, but you don't really have to worry about them. The neonazis among them used to occasionally jump above five percent in some states and enter some state legislatures, but that is probably over now that the AfD is stealing most of their voters.

German parties, unlike the two main parties in the USA, have formal memberships with membership cards and all that, so joining them is a bit more complicated than just registering as one of their voters. I don't really know that much about their internal structure. The constitution mandates that the internal structures of parties have to be small-d democratic, so you couldn't found a party in which the party charter says that you're the party dictator and get to appoint all the party officials and nominate all the party's candidates for office. There are no primaries, though, although some parties have apparently experimented with primary-like thingies in some places. Most of the time, regular members elect lowest level delegates, who in turn elect slightly higher level delegates, who in turn elect even higher level delegates, and so on, until the level of the state and federal conventions, which nominate the parties' candidates for state and federal offices. Parties can, as mentioned above, formally expel members, although they're theoretically required to give them a fair hearing first. There are special structures called "party courts" for that.

So Who Votes For Whom?

Mostly, the stereotypes associated with the German parties are similar to those associated with similar parties in the English speaking world, e.g., the farther you get to the left, the longer men's hair tends to be, the farther you get to the right, the shorter men's hair tends to be, and so on. I think it's important to keep that in mind. Sometimes, people who compare US and German politics (or US and European politics generally) claim that by US standards, the economic policies of the CDU would be center-left. And there's some truth in that. But it ignores that first, on some cultural issues, the CDU's policies would be clearly to the right of the Democrats even in the USA, and second, broadly speaking, the sort of people who vote for the CDU or CSU in Germany are the sort of people who would vote for the Tories if they were British or for the Republicans if they were from the USA. And the same applies, broadly speaking, to other parties. ("Mainstream" people can vote for either big or regular small parties in Germany, but the sort of people who vote for very small parties are generally the sort of people who might vote third party in the USA.)

There are some exceptions to the previous paragraph. One is that, apparently, in some parts of the former East Germany, local chapters of The Left still contain some bitter old men who were minor career officials back under Communist rule and who would probably be conservatives if they had spent their lives in a part of the world that never had Communist rule in the first place. Another is that the CDU is still very much associated with the middle class, unlike the current stereotype about US Republicans' massive appeal to the "white working class". (I'm not getting into how true or untrue that stereotype is.)

Coalitions

Outside of Bavaria, it's very rare for one German party to get a majority of the seats in a legislature. Minority governments are fairly rare, too. So, parties have to form coalitions, that is, two or more parties share power, with the leader of the biggest of those parties becoming Chancellor or Prime Minister. Coalitions in Germany can be roughly divided into two types: What you might call "natural coalitions" and what you might call "coalitions of necessity". (The scare quotes are there because those are terms I came up with myself, not terms that are usually used by political scientists or something like that.) Naming the coalitions is what you need all those political colors of the parties mentioned above for.

"Natural coalitions" are coalitions in which the parties involved mostly get along well and are to some extent on the same ideological wavelength. At this point in history, there are basically two possible "natural coalitions" in Germany: CDU/FDP (CDU/CSU/FDP on the federal level), which is called "black-yellow", and SPD/Greens, which is called "red-green". (There was a time in the 1970s when the SPD and the FDP in West Germany formed a lot of "red-yellow" coalitions, but that time is long gone.) If a "natural coalition" gets a majority of seats in a legislature, you basically know what will happen. (But if the bigger party of a "natural coalition" gets a majority on its own, it will still govern alone, with the smaller party joining the opposition.) Within a "natural coalition", if the smaller party appears to be in trouble, it's common for some supporters of the bigger party to vote for the smaller party, to keep it from falling below five percent.

When neither a party alone nor one of the "natural coalitions" has a majority, a "coalition of necessity" has to be formed. These can include parties that really don't like each other, so the process of forming a coalition is usually longer and more complicated. The most common "coalition of necessity" is the "grand coalition" of CDU and SPD (CDU/CSU/SPD at the federal level). It usually means that the SPD keeps the CDU from moving things to the right, and the CDU keeps the SPD from moving things to the left, so things generally stay as they were when the coalition started. The current federal coalition is a "grand coalition". But neither the CDU nor the SPD really like that option, so they often look for other options.

At the state and local level, where foreign policy is not an issue and the size of the welfare state is not much of an issue, "red-red" or "red-red-green" coalitions of the SPD and The Left, with or without the Greens, often work, but at the federal level, the differences between the SPD and The Left on those two issues make that basically impossible. In some places, the CDU and the Greens have formed state or local "black-green" coalitions, but at the federal level, the differences between what the average CDU member or voter wants and what the average Green member or voter wants are big enough that even if politicians from these two parties could work out some sort of coalition deal, they'd probably get tarred and feathered by their own parties. Other options that have been tried are "traffic light coalitions" of the SPD, FDP, and Greens ("red-yellow-green"), and "Jamaica coalitions" of the CDU, FDP, and Greens ("black-yellow-green", the colors of the flag of Jamaica). (As far as I know, Jamaica itself has a two party system and no need for coalitions.) (Oh, and actually the colors of the flag of Jamaica are black-gold-green.)

Basically all other major parties have ruled out forming a coalition with the AfD under any circumstances.

The process of forming coalitions usually takes weeks or even more than a month. During that process, the previous coalition stays in power as an "acting government", with the authority to run the day to day business of government but no authority to make big decisions. Compare this to, say, the coalition that ruled the UK from 2010 to 2015: If I remember correctly, it was formed in a few days, and during those days, Britons were apparently deeply shocked and dismayed that they might have to wait several whole days to see what their next government would look like.

I've heard different views on whether the British term "hung parliament" can be applied to Germany. Some say that, since hung parliaments are unusual and coalition forming is normal in Germany, no German parliaments are ever hung; others say that since most German elections result in no single party controlling the legislature, most German parliaments are technically hung. I myself think that the closest German equivalent to a British hung parliament is when neither of the two "natural coalitions" has a majority, but even that is very common these days.

So, What To Expect On The Day Of The Election

Unlike in the USA, where you get to refresh websites all night long to see which percentage of precincts in this or that state are reporting and where the race stands, and unlike in the UK, where TV channels spend much of the night going from one constituency to the next constituency to hear the returning officers announce the vote totals, election evening excitement (it's not really an election night) in Germany generally consists of watching a few brightly colored columns rise, to show the various parties' percentages of the vote.

At the moment the polling stations close, at 6 pm Central European time (5 pm British and Irish time, 12 noon East Coast Time, 11 am Central, 10 am Mountain, and 9 am West Coast Time), TV stations publish a "prognosis" based on exit polls. This prognosis is almost always within a few percent of the final results for all parties, so unless either one party is very close to five percent or the majority possibilities are very close, everything that comes afterwards is usually less exciting. (Media are banned from publishing exit polls while the polling stations are still open, but unlike in the UK, they are allowed to do other reporting about the election. And apparently, political leaders get exit poll results long before the polling stations close.)

Then, as polling station after polling station reports its totals, TV stations put these numbers into computers which compare the numbers to previous results from the same polling stations, calculate swing, use some more mathematical tricks, and try to extrapolate based on all this how the final result of the election will probably look like. TV stations publish one such "extrapolation" ("Hochrechnung") after another. Because they use these "mathematically processed" numbers, rather than "raw" numbers, there's generally very, very, little change in the percentages of the different parties over the course of the evening. So instead of a long night of excitement, it's usually one big moment of excitement, when the polling stations close.

So, What Will The Election Result Be?

Yes, I know, polls can be wrong. Yes, I know, a lot can happen in three and a half months. And yes, I know, ultimately the only poll that matters is the one on election day.

But...

If you look at both the polls and the most recent state legislative election results, it seems likely that the the result will be such that a continuation of the current CDU/CSU/SPD "grand coalition" under Angela Merkel's leadership (assuming that she stays in good health) will be the only plausible option.

There's some chance that a CDU/CSU/FDP "black-yellow" coalition will have a majority (which would still be lead by Angela Merkel), but it's more likely that it won't. There‘s basically no chance that a "red-green" coalition will get a majority. There's only a very small chance that a "red-red-green" coalition will even get a theoretical majority, and that's before we get to the fact that it wouldn't work out anyway. And a CDU/CSU/Green "black-green" coalition almost certainly wouldn't work out, either, even in the unlikely case that it would have a majority.

The AfD will almost certainly get above five percent and enter the Bundestag, which will lead to a lot of jubilation among their supporters and a lot of dismay among most other people, but aside from the signaling effect, it won't matter much - they will still be a small party, small parties only get to exercise real power when they join coalitions, and this particular one won't join a coalition.

The irony is that, since neither The Left nor the AfD will join a coalition at the federal level, the more votes these parties get, the more likely it becomes that the "grand coalition" is the only realistic option. In other words, the more votes the far left and the far right get, the stronger the position of the center becomes.

So, thank you for reading all this, and sorry for spoiling the ending!

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Last edited by Raphael on Mon May 07, 2018 7:52 am, edited 7 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 10:13 am 
Sumerul
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I appreciate that ZBB members have been keeping us informed of these elections in such detail. Thank you.

Raphael wrote:
Officially, Germany has a federalist system. I say "officially" because I don't really agree with that view myself. To me, the German political system looks more like something that was designed by people who wanted to design a federalist system and looked up in an encyclopedia what "federalism" is, but didn't really understand what they were reading. For instance, in the fields of policy left to the states, it's common for all states to coordinate (through conferences of heads of departments) so that they mostly all do the same thing. Which, in my opinion, sort of goes against the whole point of having a federalist system in the first place.


In my research on Belgian federalism, I've come across a political scientist* who describes two types of federalism that would describe what you're talking about here. The first is what we all think of when we hear federalism which is competitive regionalism where sub-national actors in government try to shift costs to one another. This is what we find in Belgium or in Spain. The other is cooperative federalism, where costs are less shifted and instead are shared among different sub-national actors. This is what we find in Austria and also in Germany. So arguably it's still federalism, it's just not federalism in the traditional sense that we associate with it, ie. something more along the lines of competitive regionalism.

*Börzel, T. A. (1999). Towards Convergence in Europe? Institutional Adaptation to Europeanization in Germany and Spain. Journal of Common Market Studies 37(4), 573.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 11, 2017 11:33 am 
Smeric
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I'll just copy-paste a comment I wrote a month ago:

Even if Petry did take part in the election, her party isn't going to obtain more than 10% of the seats (15% if they get incredibly lucky – but their best rating in the polls this year was 14.5% and it was back in January; since then, they are on a downfall).

Say what you want about Merkel and Schultz, but their are still the biggest players, and it will be a great surprise if neither of them wins.

It's still four months before the election, but I can envision the following scenarios:
· SPD will win the election and gain just enough seats to form a coalition with the Greens and the Left (or FDP);
· CDU/CSU will win the election and gain just enough seats to form a coalition with FDP;
· either will win but be unable to form a coalition without the other – the Red-Black coalition will continue, just maybe under a different leader (most likely).

(Also, as opposed to France, UK, US and so on, the electoral system in Germany is tuned so as to be as proportional as possible – disregarding the parties below the 5% threshold – so it's quite easy to translate the vote percentages into seat numbers.)


Quote:
(In German, the Chancellor is both officially and usually called the Federal Chancellor, which is one word in German.)

Well, Bundeskanzler/Bundeskanzlerin is still a compound of two words, it is pronounced with two stressed syllables, and is abbreviated as BK, so I don't think it's that much of a difference…

Quote:
German elections are proportional, that is, a party's share of the total vote in the election roughly determines that party's share of the seats in the elected institution. The details are a bit more complicated, but, having struggled with depression in the past, I think I'd rather keep my will to live by not trying to explain the details. The most important rule is that (aside from a few exceptions that I won't get into) a party needs five percent of the votes in the election in order to get any seats in the elected institution. That rule, however, does not apply in a number of local elections and in the elections for the German-elected part of the European Parliament.

Since 2013 the apportionment in the Bundestag is done roughly the following way:

· There are at least 598 seats, 299 chosen through FPTP and 299+ chosen through party lists.
· Each ballot contains two lists: the list of FPTP candidates and the list of parties.
· If a party doesn't manage to receive at least 5% of the party votes, or to win at least 3 FPTP constituencies, their party votes are disregarded.

Long story short, it goes bottom up.

1. First, the FPTP votes are tallied up. This way the first 299 representatives are chosen.

2. Then, in each of the 16 lands, the party list votes are tallied up, and on their basis, the whole 598 votes are divided into parties.

If a party won more FPTP constituencies than according to the party votes, they keep the FPTP seats as so called overhang seats (Überhangmandate).

3. Finally, the votes are summed up at the federal level. The 598+ seat number is further augmented with so called balancing seats (Ausgleichsmandate), so that the apportionment is proportional at the federal level as well.

(Basically, the number of the seats overall is increased and Sainte-Lague allocation on the federal level is repeated, until each party receives at least as many seats on the federal level as they received on the local level.)

The third stage was added in 2013, in order to prevent all sorts of electoral paradoxes which cased the previous system to be judged unconstitutional. However, it was also widely criticised, as it can cause the number of the balancing seats to be arbitrarily huge, until the 2013 federal election came up with only 4 overhang and 29 balancing seats.

Quote:
Unlike in the USA, state legislative elections in Germany are separate from federal elections - they're mostly not in the same years, usually not at the same time of year (except by coincidence), and mostly not even at the same intervals - most state legislatures have five year terms, while the Bundestag (as mentioned above) has a four year term. Partly because of this, and partly because there are only sixteen states, which means that each state can get a bigger share of attention than in the USA, state legislative elections in Germany have an important function as signals. For instance, in 2005, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's governing coalition lost a number of state legislative elections, and eventually, the combined signal from them became strong enough that he called for an early federal election. One US politician once famously said that "all politics is local" - well, in Germany, it's arguably the opposite: most politics is national.

Also, what is notable, each land can choose a different electoral system for the local elections. Most lands use more or less a variant of the federal system, just on a smaller scale, sometimes with some modifications. For instance, Baden-Wurttemberg uses a system with “best losers” chosen instead of party list candidates.

A hybrid STV-MMP method was once drafted by Markus Schulze for the local elections in Berlin.

(It is opposed to the way it is done e.g. in Poland, where all the details regarding the local elections are managed at the national level by the centralized government.)

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 3:44 am 
Avisaru
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Thanks, Raphael!

How popular is Merkel, really? It feels a bit strange that she could conceivably stay in power for 16 years straight. Though IIRC Kohl stayed just as long.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 1:12 pm 
Avisaru
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Ars Lande wrote:
Thanks, Raphael!

How popular is Merkel, really? It feels a bit strange that she could conceivably stay in power for 16 years straight. Though IIRC Kohl stayed just as long.


That's a kind of difficult question, since polls on her are a bit contradictory, and of course, what I hear myself might not be representative.

In "approval" polls, she generally gets good results. (To be precise, the question asked by the best-known German "approval" poll is something like "would you wish for that politician to play an important role in the future?") At the same time, I've seen some polls not too long ago that seemed to show that most people would prefer to have some generic other person as Chancellor. Then again, she has a clear lead over all actual other contenders for Chancellor.

So there seems to be a solid chunk of the electorate that, on the one hand, likes her, on the other hand, wishes she would retire already, and, on the third hand, still prefers her to any of the alternatives.

People a good deal to her right hate her passionately. People to her left generally aren't that fond of her, either, but generally don't hate her with the same passion as the hard right. I don't know of anyone who likes her as passionately as some of her opponents hate her.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 5:02 pm 
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Merkel has two really big strengths. The first one is her personality and style of politics: She's almost always calm, friendly, patient, and pragmatic, and she usually doesn't attack her opponents directly. This is not only a plus in negotiations, but it also makes it hard to really hate her. And when there's heated political discussion, she usually waits silently until all the contenders (including those from her own party) have shot all their arrows, so to speak, and only then she steps forward and presents a decision that's typically a workable compromise, or at least feels like one after the previous debate. This behavior does not really make her "popular" in the sense of "loved" or even just "liked", but in contrast to many other politicians, she generally comes across as a nice and reliable person, if a bit boring. She is also often nicknamed "Mutti der Nation" ("mother of the nation"), which is generally perceived as a fairly fitting description.

The second strength is that she has remarkable skill in "political aikido", i.e. an ability to take over political issues brought forward by the opposition, to adopt part of the opposition's position on these issues, and thus to bring down the momentum and to disarm her enemies by taking away from them their most motivating topics and their passion for fighting. This hasn't always worked perfectly (especially in situations where she moved too far from her own party's previous position, hence e.g. the strong disagreement from the right regarding her refugee policies), but it has worked well enough that none of the other parties are currently in a position to really challenge her. She's not easy to defeat when she's that good at deflecting attacks and making your weapons useless.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2017 9:06 pm 
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Cedh wrote:
She is also often nicknamed "Mutti der Nation" ("mother of the nation")

:-D This made my day. Although my German is laughably poor, I know I'll be repeating this phrase to myself all day.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 18, 2017 4:50 am 
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That was a great write-up, by the way. It's not your fault that Germany's politics is so much less dramatic and absurd than the UK's.

Quote:
The party of current Chancellor Angela Merkel, which might be confusing for some English speakers, given how much she is seen as a heroine by some English speaking center-leftists these days, and given how much some English-speaking right-wingers seem to hate her these days.


Being better than Trump and May is a pretty low bar. Plus the Anglophone world doesn't face the business end of Merkel.

I appreciate her not being Trump and May myself, but I also think her program of austerity and the German-centered policy of the EU central bank made the recession far worse in Europe than in the US and UK, and did enormous harm to European unity.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 18, 2017 2:53 pm 
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zompist wrote:
That was a great write-up, by the way. It's not your fault that Germany's politics is so much less dramatic and absurd than the UK's.




Thank you!


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 19, 2017 2:15 am 
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zompist wrote:
I also think her program of austerity and the German-centered policy of the EU central bank made the recession far worse in Europe
What recession?
*laughs in Polish*


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 19, 2017 4:07 am 
Avisaru
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zompist wrote:
That was a great write-up, by the way. It's not your fault that Germany's politics is so much less dramatic and absurd than the UK's.


Seconded. That was great.

Quote:

Quote:
The party of current Chancellor Angela Merkel, which might be confusing for some English speakers, given how much she is seen as a heroine by some English speaking center-leftists these days, and given how much some English-speaking right-wingers seem to hate her these days.


Being better than Trump and May is a pretty low bar. Plus the Anglophone world doesn't face the business end of Merkel.

I appreciate her not being Trump and May myself, but I also think her program of austerity and the German-centered policy of the EU central bank made the recession far worse in Europe than in the US and UK, and did enormous harm to European unity.


To be fair, EU central bank policy (and most EU policy in general) is elaborated by consensus; it's been politically convenient to blame unpopular measures on the Germans ever since but they were really, a collective decision.


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 24, 2017 6:50 am 
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Belated reply:

Ars Lande wrote:
To be fair, EU central bank policy (and most EU policy in general) is elaborated by consensus; it's been politically convenient to blame unpopular measures on the Germans ever since but they were really, a collective decision.


Then again, the EU central bank has mostly (except when it lowered interest rates) done what it was designed to do, and apparently it was largely designed by German conservatives.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 27, 2017 12:10 pm 
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Some updates:

The SPD held a federal party convention on Sunday, which, like most party conventions, was mostly ignored by most people. In the state of Schleswig-Holstein, CDU, FDP, and the Greens have agreed on a "Jamaica coalition", following coalition negotiations that had started after the state legislative election there on May the 7th.

Oh, and there's now apparently a fairly good chance that marriage equality - that is, same-sex marriage or, as its supporters in Germany usually call it, marriage for all - might pass soon. The details of the legislative process concerning that are a bit complicated.

Back in the first post of this thread, I wrote:

Quote:
Most of the time, you can safely forget about the individual steps in the process for "how a bill becomes a law" in Germany - in practice, the governing coalition agrees on a bill, then the bill gets formally introduced, and the rest is just formalities and maybe some fine-tuning.


OK, now that sentence has sort of come back to bite me in the ass. In the process for turning the current marriage equality bill into a law, some of the individual steps are actually relevant.

At their federal party convention on Sunday, the SPD declared that after the election, they would not join any coalition without marriage equality. This comes after the Greens and the FDP came out in favor of marriage equality. So basically, after the election, the CDU/CSU will have to form a coalition with at least one party that strongly supports marriage equality. (It's currently very unlikely that there'll be a plausible coalition without the CDU/CSU after the election.)

Reacting to those developments, Angela Merkel has said in an interview that she'd be in favor of having a vote on the matter in the Bundestag some time after the election in which the CDU would tell their members of the Bundestag that how they vote is a matter of conscience - that is, they would not "advise" their people on how to vote. In that case, marriage equality would almost certainly pass.

Leading politicians in the SPD, however, have said that they want to pass marriage equality before the election. The Federal Council introduced a marriage equality bill back in 2015, which has been sort of hanging in the air since then, and SPD politicians want to pass that one before it dies after the election.

Which brings us to the general issue of federal bills in Germany that are introduced by someone else than the cabinet and don't have the support of most politicians in the largest coalition party, but do probably have the support of most individual members of the Bundestag. A bill with those traits is a fairly unusual thing in Germany - unusual enough that a 169 pages long pdf document on how the Bundestag works that I downloaded in the hope of finding out what is likely to happen next has almost nothing on such bills (it briefly mentions the possibility and then talks a lot about bills introduced by the cabinet).

The SPD claims that there might be a vote in the Bundestag on the second reading of that bill this week. However, the Bundestag's agenda for the week says nothing about marriage laws, and I don't know how the agenda can be changed once it has been agreed on. (The Bundestag's agenda is set by something called the Bundestag's Council of Elders (Ältestenrat), which consists of the Bundestag's leading officials, the leading officials of the different factions (party conferences), and a few more people.)

Sigh. I'll get back to you if I hear anything new on the matter.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 27, 2017 1:16 pm 
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Raphael wrote:
marriage for all
I wonder what Patrick Stübing and his supporters think of that phrase.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 28, 2017 11:31 am 
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Next update: The marriage equality bill has been reported out of the Bundestag's law committee. Pretty much everyone seems to agree that it will pass its second and third reading on Friday. (Presumably, the Council of Elders will, when it meets tomorrow, put it on the agenda for Friday.) (Today I learned that if bills in the Bundestag pass their second reading without changes, the third reading follows immediately afterwards.)

It's very likely that once the bill has become a law, cultural conservatives will complain to the Federal Constitutional Court that it's unconstitutional. The German Basic Law (the current constitution) states that "marriage and the family are under the special protection of the order of the state", and cultural conservatives interpret that as mandating that marriage must be generally preserved in the form it had when the Basic Law was written, that is, in 1949.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 29, 2017 2:35 am 
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On the other hand, the Federal Constitutional Court has ruled before that same-sex partnerships living together with the child(ren) of one of the partners fall under the definition of "family" according to the paragraph Raphael mentioned.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 30, 2017 11:28 am 
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Ok, the bill passed the Bundestag this morning, with Merkel herself voting against it. I think bills being passed against the Chancellor's own vote are fairly unusual in Germany - I guess in this case it was possible because of the weird situation where the two biggest parties at the same time govern together in a coalition and campaign against each other.

The Federal Council will now have two weeks to refer the bill to the Mediation Committee (between the Bundestag and the Federal Council.) If it does not do that -and it most likely won't - the bill will be signed by the Federal President, then officially published, and a few months later it will take force - most media outlets seem to agree that it will take force on November the 1st. New laws in Germany usually take force on the first of a month.


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 17, 2017 12:47 pm 
Smeric
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Raphael wrote:
People generally vote for parties rather than individuals; as a result, German legislators are very heavily dependent on their parties, and almost never vote against them.
Ich habe eine Unterschied zwischen die Wahl während des Ermächtigungsgesetzes (und das französischen Gegenstück) in Deutschland und in Frankreich bemerkt: in Deutschland haben alle Sozialisten gegen gewählt, und nur die. Aber in Frankreich waren die Parteien ganz geteilt hinsichtlich des Wahls über die Mächte Pétains (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vote_des_ ... %C3%A9tain).
I noticed a difference between France and Germany during the enabling acts in the respective countries: in Germany, all the socialists voted against, and only them. But, in France, the parties were heavily divided in terms of vote on Pétain's powers. (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vote_des_ ... %C3%A9tain)

Quote:
And a CDU/CSU/Green "black-green" coalition almost certainly wouldn't work out, either, even in the unlikely case that it would have a majority.

Warum denkst du das? Es gibt schon den schwarz-grün Koalition in Baden-Würtemberg ohne Probleme, oder?
Why do you think that? There's already the black-green coalition in Baden-Würtemberg without problems, isn't there?

Quote:
A few of the states have existed in some form in more or less their current borders for a long time, but most were cobbled together from bits and pieces of earlier political entities by the Allies after World War 2. Therefore, some of them have awkward hyphenated names like "Nordrhein-Westfalen" (North Rhine-Westphalia) or "Baden-Württemberg".
Was denkst du über eine Bundeslandsbesserung? In Frankreich wurde eine Neuerung mit mehr Zusammenflicken eingeführt, und das war ganz unbeliebt und großteils unberechtigt.
What do you think about a reform of the regions? In France, a reform with more cobbling together was put in place, and it was quite unpopular and largely unjustified.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 1:29 pm 
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Sorry, I was away from the ZBB for a few days.

OK, zuerst die sprachlichen Korrekturen:
OK, fir the use-of language corrections:

Quote:
Ich habe eine Unterschied zwischen die Wahl während des Ermächtigungsgesetzes (und das französischen Gegenstück) in Deutschland und in Frankreich bemerkt:


"Ich habe einen Unterschied zwischen der Abstimmung über das Ermächtigungsgesetz (und der über das französische Gegenstück) in Deutschland und in Frankreich bemerkt:"

Das Wort "Wahl" wird normalerweise nur benutzt, wenn man Menschen in Ämter wählt. In anderen Zusammenhängen sagt man meistes "Abstimmung".
The word "Wahl" is usually only used if you elect people to offices. In other contexts you usually say "Abstimmung".

Quote:
in Deutschland haben alle Sozialisten gegen gewählt, und nur die.

"in Deutschland haben alle Sozialdemokraten dagegen gestimmt, und nur die."

Erwachsene SPD-Mitglieder in Deutschland nennen sich selbst eigentlich fast immer "Sozialdemokraten", und werden nur gelegentlich von ihren Gegnern "Sozialisten" genannt. Die Jugendorganisation heißt allerdings "Jungsozialistinnen und Jungsozialisten".
Adult SPD members in Germany almost always call themselves "Social Democrats", and are only occasionally called "socialists" by their opponents. The youth organization is, however, called "Young Socialists".

Quote:
Aber in Frankreich waren die Parteien ganz geteilt hinsichtlich des Wahls über die Mächte Pétains

"Aber in Frankreich waren alle Parteien bei der Abstimmung über die Vollmachten Pétains gespalten."

Quote:
Warum denkst du das? Es gibt schon den schwarz-grün Koalition in Baden-Würtemberg ohne Probleme, oder?

"Warum denkst du das? Es gibt doch schon ohne Probleme die schwarz-grüne Koalition in Baden-Würtemberg, oder?"

Quote:
Was denkst du über eine Bundeslandsbesserung? In Frankreich wurde eine Neuerung mit mehr Zusammenflicken eingeführt, und das war ganz unbeliebt und großteils unberechtigt.

"Was denkst du über eine Bundeslandsverbesserung? In Frankreich wurde eine Neuerung mit mehr Zusammenflicken eingeführt, und das war ganz unbeliebt und größtenteils unberechtigt."



OK, now on to the points you made:

Regarding the vote on giving Pétain supreme powers, I'm reminded of the early chapters of Robert Paxton's book "Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944". Paxton claims that there was an enormous feeling of failure, disaster, desolation, and dread in the France of mid-1940, and, crucially, that the sense of enormous failure was blamed almost universally on the existing (democratic) political system, even by people who were a part of that system. It seems likely that even many left-wing politicians thought "we tried doing things our way, and that failed", and were therefore willing to vote for a radical change in the political system. That is, however, meant as an explanation, not as an excuse.

Regarding whether a CDU/CSU/Green coalition could work at the federal level - I admit that my opinion that it couldn't is mostly a gut feeling, not something I could argue for analytically. I will, however, say that some of the cultural issues on which the CDU and the Greens are the farthest away from each other are decided at the federal level in Germany. My gut feeling might be wrong, though.

As for the last point, reducing the number of states in Germany seems to be very popular among politicians and fairly unpopular among everyone else. That is relevant because, under the Basic Law, any changes to state borders must be confirmed in referendums. There was a referendum on merging Berlin and Brandenburg in the 1990s, which failed. I don't really have any strong opinions on the matter, except that I think that outside of Berlin, it's probably better for places in the former West Germany to belong to different states than places in the former East Germany for now - circumstances, and therefore the needs of people when it comes to public policy, are still fairly different in the two parts of the country. However, it's kinda weird that people are often so strongly opposed to changing state borders, since "regional identities" in Germany are usually based on "traditional regions" rather than states.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 2:43 am 
Smeric
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Quote:
Bundeslandsverbesserung

The technical terms are Neugliederung des Bundesgebietes or Länderreform. The German Wikipedia has a good overview about the various proposals and initiatives.
I don't think any of that will happen - as Raphael says, people aren't interested, but any changes need to be agreed in referendums, which will most probably fail to attract sufficient quora and yes votes. Historically, there were successful referendums (called because of successful petitions) in 1975 for the resurrection of two pre-WW II smaller states (Oldenburg, Schaumburg-Lippe) that are part of Lower Saxony, but the Federal Government refused to implement them, as the resurrection would have been contrary to the constitutional goals set for the re-ordering of the states (creating more viable states) - the resurrection would have created more minnow states, not led to the consolidation foreseen in the constitution. So the goals of the politicians and wonks, as put into the constitution, of having less and bigger states is something the voters aren't interested in, while the only goal that managed to make people interested in these matters, the resurrection of abolished states, is not supported by the politicians and the constitution.
I don't know whether resurrection of any state merged into the current ones would still fire up so many voters today; in 1975, the memory of those states was much fresher. The only state for which I know that there still is a substantial movement to resurrect it is Baden, but a referendum to resurrect it failed in 1975.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 3:33 am 
Avisaru
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jmcd wrote:
Raphael wrote:
People generally vote for parties rather than individuals; as a result, German legislators are very heavily dependent on their parties, and almost never vote against them.
Ich habe eine Unterschied zwischen die Wahl während des Ermächtigungsgesetzes (und das französischen Gegenstück) in Deutschland und in Frankreich bemerkt: in Deutschland haben alle Sozialisten gegen gewählt, und nur die. Aber in Frankreich waren die Parteien ganz geteilt hinsichtlich des Wahls über die Mächte Pétains (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vote_des_ ... %C3%A9tain).
I noticed a difference between France and Germany during the enabling acts in the respective countries: in Germany, all the socialists voted against, and only them. But, in France, the parties were heavily divided in terms of vote on Pétain's powers. (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vote_des_ ... %C3%A9tain)


Hopefully, that particular example isn't representative of French politics as a whole!

That said, party discipline, while it exists, is laxer in France than in Germany, or the UK. That led among other things to the near collapse of the socialist party this year - understandably, LREM (Macron's party) looks so far to be a lot stricter about it. I'm not sure people are really comfortable with that, though - we're accustomed to some independence from our legislators.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 6:55 am 
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Raphael wrote:
Therefore, some of them have awkward hyphenated names like "Nordrhein-Westfalen" (North Rhine-Westphalia) or "Baden-Württemberg".


It should perhaps be mentioned that this is a country that has previously comprised such polities as Baden-Durlach, Baden-Hochberg, Baden-Pforzheim, Baden-Sausenberg, and even Baden-Baden. The name of Baden-Baden was so popular that when Baden-Baden itself ceased to exist, they renamed Baden as Baden-Baden to keep the name alive. (Baden-Baden (formerly Baden) is located in the former territory of Baden-Baden in Baden in Baden-Wuerttemberg).

And that's not mentioning German states like Sayn-Wittgenstein-Wittgenstein, Isenburg-Büdingen-Birstein, or the Wild- und Rhinegraviate of Rheingrafenstein-Grenzweiler! (speaking of which: how is on meant to pronounce "Salm-Dhaun"?)

Anyway, it's interesting that there's no interest in German regional reform. In parallel, here there's been a lot of pressure from politicians of both parties to give away powers to local regions, decentralising power from Westminster and allowing more direct rule by local people... but the problem is, everybody despises the idea. The general feeling seems to be that it's bad enough having to put up with as much democracy as we have, let alone have more democracy. [this is usually phrased in terms of the democratic process requiring *spit* politicians *spit*, and nothing could be worse than the existence of politicians. Give power to the regions? Then there would have to be regional politicians! Why doesn't the PM just decide everything herself, then we wouldn't need politicians at all!]

More generally, the theme seems to be that the people are completely uninterested in regional-level government wherever you are, until an independence movement comes along.



Ars: the different in party discipline is a result of the electoral system. Two-round voting totally undermines any attempt at building a stable two-party system. Normally, voters cannot vote for minor parties due to an assurance game: there's no point voting for a minor party unless everyone else does, and unless the opinion pollls are overwhelming you can't be sure that everyone else will, so you play it safe and vote for the main party instead. The two-round system allows voters to signal their support for a minor party in the first vote, assuming that they'll have a change to switch to the main party in the second vote (though, of course, sometimes they misjudge this); this enables minor parties to rise to become major parties very quickly, either by 'accidentally' beating the main party in the first round, or just by the first round vote being a strong enough signal to encourage supporters to risk voting for them next time. You get a similar party-weakening effect in other multiple-vote systems, such as STV.

This is also exacerbated in France by the fact that your parties hold public primaries to select candidates, which forces representatives to pay attention to local politics to stave off any challengers within their own party. This encourages more independent thinking. Conversely a system where candidates are centrally selected by the party strongly reinforces party obedience, while one where candidates are selected by local party committees is probably somewhere in the middle (candidates can't piss off the local party TOO much, but on the other hand the local party officials are probably more pragmatic and loyal than the party membership at large).

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 8:07 am 
Avisaru
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Salmoneus wrote:
More generally, the theme seems to be that the people are completely uninterested in regional-level government wherever you are, until an independence movement comes along.


I always thought the Germans are on the whole, very satisfied with the federal system, interested in regional-level politics, and pretty much content with the Länder as they now stand. Maybe Raphael or hwhatting will disabuse me of that notion :)

The French reform of the region mostly left people indifferent because, well, it was just a stupid, pointless reform.
We're not very interested on the whole in regional government, because the regions don't have enough autonomy to matter and aren't likely to get any. That's because the Republic (cue dramatic chord) is One and Indivisible (thunderclap) and giving a local government something interesting to do would lead to unspecified vague nasty things.

Quote:
This is also exacerbated in France by the fact that your parties hold public primaries to select candidates, which forces representatives to pay attention to local politics to stave off any challengers within their own party. This encourages more independent thinking. Conversely a system where candidates are centrally selected by the party strongly reinforces party obedience, while one where candidates are selected by local party committees is probably somewhere in the middle (candidates can't piss off the local party TOO much, but on the other hand the local party officials are probably more pragmatic and loyal than the party membership at large).

We only have public primaries for presidential candidates, and that was fairly recent. The socialists had one in 2012 in 2016, LR only in 2016. Seeing how it turned out so I'm fairly sure that experiment will be quickly dropped. 2012-2016 did coincide with a breakdown in party discipline for the socialists so indeed the primaries had an effect.
Candidates for the legislative elections are ultimately decided centrally, at least for the mainstream parties. But, as the presidential and legislative elections are synced, the presidential candidates usually gets a lot of input, except of course when his party hates him. (Also, there's always the chance the rejected candidate tips off the press about a financial scandal, as happened this year with Fillon, apparently).


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 8:11 am 
Smeric
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Salmoneus wrote:
Raphael wrote:
Therefore, some of them have awkward hyphenated names like "Nordrhein-Westfalen" (North Rhine-Westphalia) or "Baden-Württemberg".

It should perhaps be mentioned that this is a country that has previously comprised such polities as Baden-Durlach, Baden-Hochberg, Baden-Pforzheim, Baden-Sausenberg, and even Baden-Baden.

The main difference is that with the old polities, the hyphen mostly indicated splits (Baden-Durlach was the part of Baden that went to the Durlach branch), while the modern hyphenated names generally indicate amalgamation (Baden-Württemberg contains the old states of Baden and Württemberg).

Salmoneus wrote:
(speaking of which: how is on meant to pronounce "Salm-Dhaun"?)

[zalm daʊ̯n]. The "Dh" is just a weird historical spelling.

Quote:
More generally, the theme seems to be that the people are completely uninterested in regional-level government wherever you are, until an independence movement comes along.

Not true for Germany - I wouldn't try to abolish the states, people are used to them, even if most of them are artificial post-WW II creations.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2017 12:00 pm 
Smeric
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It's going to be another SPD-CDU coalition, isn't it.
Also, repeating my earlier question:
I wrote:
Raphael wrote:
marriage for all
I wonder what Patrick Stübing and his supporters think of that phrase.

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