Bavarian election: Embattled CSU and SPD in last minute push to win back voters

As the state election campaign in Bavaria draws to a close, the embattled CSU and SPD are launching major rallies on Friday in a last desperate push to draw in voters.

Bavarian election: Embattled CSU and SPD in last minute push to win back voters
Bavaria will go to the polls on Sunday. Will the polls be correct? Photo: DPA

Both parties are in extremely difficult positions ahead of the election on Sunday. According to polls, both the Christian Socialists and the Social Democrats can expect heavy losses.

The ZDF ‘Politbarometer’, which was released late on Thursday, showed the CSU are currently at 34 percent, which is one percentage point less than the previous week. The Greens remain the second strongest force with 19 percent – a plus of one percentage point. The SPD lag behind with 12 percent.

Interestingly, the Free Voters' Party (Die Freien Wähler or FW), a conservative party which governs at a local level and is led by Hubert Aiwanger, have 10 percent. The AfD also scored 10 percent.

According to the ‘Politbarometer’, the Free Democrats (FDP)  managed 5.5 percent, while the Left Party (Die Linke) is at 4 percent (minus 0.5 points since the previous poll). Both parties will struggle to enter the state parliament if the polls are correct.

SEE ALSO: What you need to know about the upcoming Bavarian election

A total of 1075 voters were randomly selected in Bavaria for the most recent survey. 

In the state elections of 2013, the CSU still had 47.7 percent of the votes, the SPD ended up with 20.6 percent, the Free Voters' Party scooped 9 percent while the Greens only had 8.6 percent. 

Final rallies

In contrast to the Bundestag election a year ago, the CSU will not be supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) at its official final rally in Munich happening Friday at 6pm.

Instead, Prime Minister Markus Söder will appear with party leader Horst Seehofer and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP).

At around the same time in Schweinfurt, SPD top candidate Natascha Kohnen and party leader Andrea Nahles will once again speak out against the decline of the Bavarian SPD and hope to inject some positive energy into their campaign.

Other parties are also staging election campaign events on Friday. For the Greens, who are currently riding on a wave of euphoria thanks to their recent boost, Baden-Württemberg's Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann will be in the Swabian town of Ustersbach in the afternoon, and at 6pm, top candidate Ludwig Hartmann and former party leader Cem Özdemir will be in Munich.

In Nuremberg, high profile Brexit opponent Norman Baker, a member of the UK party the Liberal Democrats, will speak at an event organized by the FDP.

SEE ALSO: After beer and dirndl campaign, Bavarian politics is facing a shake-up

The CSU, which has so far been the sole governing party in Bavaria, has been polling between 33 and 35 percent in recent polls so it's likely that the party will not score a majority and will have to search for a coalition partner.

The most stable alliance would be one with the Greens, but commentators say the parties might be too different for that formation – and other partnerships are also possible.

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Why Germany’s supersize Bundestag might become smaller

With 736 MPs, the German Bundestag is one of the world’s largest parliaments - and keeps growing. But the coalition government wants to cap it at under 600 seats so it's not as bloated.

Why Germany's supersize Bundestag might become smaller

What’s happening?

The German Bundestag – the lower house of parliament – currently has 138 seats more than it technically should have.

Several attempts at reform in the past have so far failed to change this significantly. The country’s voting system was brought in following the war and it was seen as a compromise for smaller parties, who were worried they wouldn’t win any seats.

But now Germany’s political landscape has changed; there are no longer just two big parties – the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats – vying for a majority. 

Now politicians from the ruling coalition, made up of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP), have come up with a drastic proposal.

In order to significantly reduce the size of the Bundestag, the ‘overhang mandates’ and therefore also the compensatory mandates to achieve the balance of power would be abolished. 

What will this mean for voters?

Reducing the size of parliament could change some considerations about how Germans vote. That’s because Germany’s complicated voting system is what makes the Bundestag so large.

When Germans vote in an election – most recently in September 2021 – they cast two votes. The first vote, or Erststimme, is a vote for the representative in your district and is counted in the same way as a district vote in the US, UK, or Canada would be counted.

Right now, if someone wins the first vote outright, they go into the Bundestag. The second vote, or Zweistimme, is more important, as it’s for a party. Each party is assigned a number of seats proportional to the number of second votes they got.

READ ALSO: ‘My vote counts’: How Germany’s new legion of foreign voters see the election

But what if more members win seats on the first vote than the share of the second vote results entitles them to? When that happens, the Bundestag is allocated additional seats to compensate. These are called the ‘overhang seats’ and they’re part of why the Bundestag has so many members. To make up for this, other parties also get more seats, to ensure that the relative proportion of parties in the Bundestag reflects the election result. 

There is also the question on if taxpayer-money is being spent wisely – each of those extra MPs is also entitled to staff. 

The joint proposal for reform from three MPs, each representing one of the three governing parties, would get rid of these overhang seats. The number of seats a party receives in the Bundestag would then be decided exclusively by the second vote, which would be renamed a ‘list vote’ or ‘Listenstimme‘.

It would mean that Bundestag would always have its intended size of 598 members, which is the aim of the reform. 

How would this work in practice?

According to the proposal, if a party wins more direct mandates in a federal state than it would be entitled to according to the result of the second vote, then the “surplus” direct mandates with the weakest result should be capped.

To ensure that the votes for these candidates are not forfeited, voters should have a “substitute vote” in addition to their first vote. With this, according to the proposal, they can choose the candidate who will be their second choice as constituency representative.

If the mandate of the “overhang candidate” were to be eliminated, these substitute votes would be counted instead and the winning candidate would enter the Bundestag. Unlike today, winning a constituency would no longer guarantee a Bundestag mandate. The reformers therefore want to rename the first vote “personal vote” and the second vote “list vote”.

The joint proposal also envisions reducing the number of constituencies in Germany from 299 to 280.

Is this definitely happening?

No. The proposal would still have to be debated by parliament and could run into resistance from members who rely on direct votes. The opposition Christian Democrats, for example, generally oppose any measures to get rid of overhang seats.


German Federal Parliament – (der) Bundestag

Member of German Parliament – Mitgleid des Deutschen Bundestages (MdB) or Bundestagsabgeordneter 

Vote – (die) Stimme

Overhang Seat – (das) Überhangmandat