Explained: Everything you need to know about Germany Elections 2021

In total, there are 47 parties taking part in the election this year. To win representation in parliament as a group, a party needs to pass the 5% threshold or have three directly elected candidates.

For 16 years, Chancellor Angela Merkel has headed a government led by her center-right Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU). Young voters cannot remember any other chancellor. Now the 67-year-old is stepping down and the CDU/CSU is struggling in the polls, with extensive squabbling about the future leadership.

This feels like a pivotal election.

Voting starts on Sunday at 8 a.m. Some 650,000 volunteers will be posted at 88,000 polling stations across the country to hand out ballots and help with the counting once polls close at 6 p.m.


Who is up for election?

No one will directly elect the chancellor on Sunday, rather members of the parliament, the Bundestag, are standing for four-year terms.

It is these representatives who will later elect a chancellor to head a new government.

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The German election system is a style of proportional representation. This means that each voter has two votes.

The first vote directly decides a candidate in each of the 299 electoral districts in a first-past-the-post system. This ensures that every district and every region has a representative in parliament. Candidates must be German citizens over the age of 18. Individuals without party affiliation can also run. To do so, they must have 200 signatories from their respective constituency supporting their candidacy.

The second vote is used to elect a party: It determines the makeup of the Bundestag.

It is not possible to predict exactly how large the future parliament will be, due to the difference between the number of directly elected representatives and the results of the second vote.

How many parties are there?

In total, there are 47 parties taking part in the election this year. To win representation in parliament as a group, a party needs to pass the 5% threshold or have three directly elected candidates.

The CDU/CSU, the center-left Social Democrat SPD, the pro-free market Free Democrats (FDP), the environmentalist Green Party, the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the socialist Left Party have been represented in parliament over the last four years and all are expected to maintain their presence in the body.

Who can vote?

All those who are at least 18 years old, have German citizenship and have lived in Germany for at least three months can vote. Germans living abroad can vote upon request.

Unlike in local elections, people who have a German passport but who have not lived in Germany for several decades cannot take part in the election.

According to the federal office of statistics, around 60.4 million Germans can vote. The number of enfranchised women (31.2 million) is higher than men (29.2 million). Four years ago at the last election around 61.7 million people were eligible to vote.

Around 2.8 million so-called first-time voters have turned 18 since 2017. That is 4.6% of the entire electorate. In comparison, 21.3% of the electorate are aged 70 or above.

Voter turnout in German federal elections is higher than in state and local elections. The highest turnout ever occurred in 1972 (91.1%) and the lowest in 2009 (70.8%). In general, more people took part in elections in the years leading up to the early 1980s than in the decades that followed. Voter turnout is traditionally seen as an expression of engagement with politics.

Why isn’t voting compulsory?

Compulsory voting was occasionally discussed in the past but seen as contradictory to the freedom to decide whether and how to vote. When the East German civil rights campaigner Joachim Gauck became president of Germany on March 18, 2012, the 72-year-old used his inaugural speech as an opportunity to recall the first time he took part in a free, democratic election — exactly 22 years earlier, on March 18, 1990.

“That was a great Sunday,” Gauck said. “After 56 years of dictatorship, millions of us East Germans could be citizens for the first time … Beyond the joy of that moment, I was certain of one thing: That I would never — never — miss an election. I had simply had to wait too long for the joy of participation to ever forget the powerlessness that goes with oppression.”

How is a fair election guaranteed?

Only official ballot papers are permitted for voting and online voting is not possible.

Only once, in the 2005 Bundestag elections, more than one million people had the option of voting by computer. The federal constitutional court later ruled that the use of voting computers contradicted the principle of the public nature of the election and was unconstitutional. In light of suspected hacker attacks — or attempted attacks — on electronic elections in other countries, concerns about electronic voting have increased in recent years, encouraging Germany to maintain its practice.

There are strict guidelines in place for in-person and for postal voting, for which all ballots must have arrived before 6 p.m. on election day.

Elections are a public procedure. Anyone and everyone can visit a polling station throughout the day until after the votes have been counted.

Since the 2009 federal election, there has been election monitoring by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in each case. Some experts from the 57 OSCE states are following the implementation of the election in Germany.

When will there be a result?

Straight after the closure of the ballot boxes at 6 p.m., exit polls are published.

This is followed by the extrapolation of results when the first votes have actually been counted. They are updated as counting continues into the early hours of the following morning when there is a provisional result. Several weeks pass until the publishing of the official election result.

And an election result can be contested.

Is Angela Merkel still chancellor after the election?

The newly elected Bundestag must convene within 30 days after the vote. But this does not mean there will be a new government by then.

After the election, the preparatory exploratory talks begin between parties. These then turn into real coalition talks with the aim of forging a majority government. This can take several months.

The new government takes power when the Bundestag has elected a chancellor with an absolute majority of over 50%. Then the head of government names the cabinet ministers and when all of them have officially been appointed by the president and have been sworn in in parliament, the new government takes office.

Until then, Chancellor Angela Merkel will remain in office in a caretaker role.

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