Angela Merkel is heading for a fourth term as Germany’s chancellor after her centre-right CDU party and its CSU sister party won 32% of the vote, initial exit polls have projected.
Germany’s recently amended electoral system, combining direct and proportional representation, is complex. The country’s 61.5 million voters get two votes on a single ballot paper: the first for a local representative, the second for a party.
Roughly half the Bundestag’s seats are guaranteed to go to the 299 representatives of the country’s electoral districts, each chosen by their constituents with their Erststimme, or first vote, in a straight first-past-the-post contest.
The rest are allocated according to the national vote share won by every party that clears a 5% threshold in the second vote, or Zweitstimme – which is also used to determine the overall number of seats each party winds up with: if a party scores 25% of the national vote, it must get 25% of the seats.
Sometimes parties return more Erststimme representatives than they are entitled to, according to the Zweitstimme. So to compensate, the other parties get extra seats – which means the Bundestag, theoretically made up of 598 representatives, could expand to as many as 800 (it currently has 631).
Once a governing coalition has been formed, which can take up to a month, Germany’s president (a largely ceremonial role) nominates the chancellor – usually the leader of the largest party – who is confirmed by parliament in a secret ballot.