German court dumps election law that favoured Merkel

BERLIN Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:44pm IST

The plenary of the Reichstag building, seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag, is pictured during a session in Berlin, July 19, 2012. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

The plenary of the Reichstag building, seat of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag, is pictured during a session in Berlin, July 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

Related Topics

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's top court ruled on Wednesday that the country's election law is unconstitutional, leaving Europe's biggest economy with no valid rules on how to distribute seats in the Bundestag lower house just over a year before the next vote.

The Karlsruhe-based Constitutional Court upheld a case brought by the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and more than over 3,000 citizens against the law, which was altered by Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition last year.

Germany's complex system, which can end up creating extra or "overhang" parliamentary seats that benefit the bigger parties, breaches citizens' rights to take part in direct, free and equal elections as enshrined in the constitution, the court said.

Merkel's government, preoccupied with trying to stem the euro zone debt crisis, now has to come up with a new law by autumn 2013, when the next federal election is due.

A spokesman said the government respected the court's decision.

"Clarity has been brought to bear on a complex matter of German electoral law... This ruling must now be carefully, but quickly looked at," said deputy government spokesman Georg Streiter at a regular news conference.

Officials said they expected to have a law in effect by the next election and refused to speculate on what would happen if that were not the case.

Although the ruling is an embarrassment for Merkel, it is probable that all German parties will now agree on a new draft law. This might dilute the positive effect this quirk in the system has had on the bigger parties, especially Merkel's conservatives, but it unlikely to swing election outcomes.

UNFAIR?

In Germany, each voter can cast two ballots - one for a specific candidate in his or her constituency and the second for a particular party.

If a party wins more direct seats in a constituency than it would theoretically get according to the percentage of second votes, the Bundestag creates extra, or "overhang" seats.

This system has over the years benefited the bigger parties, and most of all Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU). In 2009, the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) won a total of 24 overhang seats.

Wednesday's ruling, which follows a judgement in 2008 when the court said the system could give an advantage to bigger parties, makes clear last year's changes left a system that was still at odds with the constitution.

Whereas usually on such matters a cross-party consensus is reached, Merkel's government decided to go ahead with the changes despite objections from opposition parties.

"The (court) has decided.. that the new method of distributing lawmakers' seats in the German lower house breaches the basic principles of equal, direct elections as well as that of offering equal opportunities to the parties," the court wrote.

Opposition parties made the most of what they described as a major victory.

"The coalition has paid the price for abusing the election law as an instrument of power," said Thomas Oppermann, a senior Social Democrat. "All citizens must be able to depend on their vote being just as valuable as someone else's."

Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, a member of Merkel's CDU, called on all parties to put their differences behind them and agree on a new law.

"(The ruling) gives us reason to take a self-critical look at the legislative process," said Lammert, adding that it was important to avoid giving voters the impression that individual parties or candidates would be favoured.

(Reporting By Madeline Chambers. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Mideast Conflict

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Development Report

Development Report

U.N. urges sustained effort to improve flagging development.  Full Article 

Downed Plane

Downed Plane

"Weeks or months" until Malaysian remains from MH17 can be returned home - PM.  Full Article 

Food Scandal

Food Scandal

China probes 581 firms, restaurants as food safety scare spreads.  Full Article 

Plane Crash

Plane Crash

Taiwan says weather not seen as cause of plane crash that killed 48.  Full Article 

Fighting Polio

Fighting Polio

Nigeria may have no polio cases next year, says Bill Gates.  Full Article 

Health Study

Health Study

Paracetamol no better than placebo for low back pain, study finds.  Full Article 

Strategic Plans

Strategic Plans

China plans railway to India, Nepal borders by 2020.  Full Article 

Leaving Russia

Leaving Russia

Disenchanted with Putin, some Russians vote with their feet.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage