Friday, August 1, 2008

Proportional Representation 3: Variations on a Theme

In this series, I have described two extremes: 1) pure proportional representation, and 2) single-member district plurality voting.

But some countries have created hybrid systems, that have elements of both. Exhibit A is Germany.

The current German state, the Federal Republic of Germany (its initials in German are "BRD"), was created in 1949, and at that time consisted of the American, British and French zones of post-World War II occupation. That is what was known as "West Germany" from 1949 to 1990. In 1990, the BRD expanded to take in the areas that had been East Germany.

The seats in the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag, are divded into two types. Half of the seats are elected via proportional representation. The other half are elected from individual constituencies, through a plurality, or "first past the post" system. That means that the candidate with the higher number of votes wins, regardless of whether that vote total is a majority.

That mixed system dates from the creation of the BRD in 1949, and continued after reunification of West and East in 1990.

The Germans wanted to avoid the political chaos that had resulted from proportional representation in the so-called "Weimar Republic" that governed Germany between the World Wars. Multiple parties in shifting coalitions found themselves unable to effectively address issues such as post-war reconstruction, inflation and unemployment. Those problems contributed to the ability of the Nazi Party to come to power in 1933, despite their not having won a majority in a national election.

Two elements were included in the electoral system for the post-World War II Bundestag, that were intended to prevent a recurrence of such events:

  1. Restricting proportional representation to only half of the seats, and

  2. Requiring any party to get either 5% of the votes, or victory in at least 3 constitutencies, in order to get any proportional seats.

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