Federal election and chancellor election: when and how will the next chancellor be elected?

Chancellor candidates Laschet, Baerbock and Scholz

Angela Merkel has been in office since 2005, taking over from her predecessor Gerhard Schroder after the 2005 early Bundestag election. How does the 2021 German chancellor election work, in which Merkel does not want to run again??

Berlin – After four legislative periods in which she has been elected as Chancellor, Angela Merkel will no longer stand as the Union parties’ candidate for Chancellor in the 2021 federal election. In the election for Chancellor following the Bundestag election, another candidate therefore takes office in any case. (Election dates, live ticker, background coverage – get all the info on the 2021 federal election in our politics newsletter.)

First Bundestag election, then chancellor election

In Germany, citizens do not directly elect the chancellor. Instead, they vote in the Bundestag election on the distribution of seats in parliament. The representatives elected by the people vote after the Bundestag election on which person should be at the head of the government as Chancellor or Federal Chancellor.

The various parties are elected not only on the basis of their election program and their stance on various political issues. For many citizens, it’s also important who the future chancellor will be. So months before the federal election and the chancellor’s election, the parties nominate a candidate for chancellor who tours the country promoting himself and his party. For the 2021 federal election, for example, the major parties are sending the following candidates into the race:

  • CDU/CSU (Union parties): Armin Laschet, Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia
  • SPD: Olaf Scholz, Finance Minister in the current government
  • Greens: Annalena Baerbock, party chairwoman
  • FDP: Christian Lindner, party leader
  • AfD: Tino Chrupalla, party leader, and Alice Weidel, parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag (as dual leadership)
  • Left: Janine Wissler and Dietmar Bartsch (both Federal Party Executive Committee)

Federal Chancellor election – the procedure

After the Bundestag election, no party usually has a sufficient number of votes and thus seats to constitute a majority on its own. Therefore, parties pursuing similar goals and programs negotiate the formation of a coalition. Part of the bargaining chip here is the candidacy for Chancellor. The process of the chancellor’s election goes as follows:

  • After discussions with the various parliamentary groups in the Bundestag, the Federal President proposes people from different parties for candidacy.
  • The deputies then vote on the proposals without debate.
  • To win the election for chancellor, a candidate for chancellor needs an absolute majority, i.e. he or she must receive at least half of all votes plus one.
  • If no candidate is successful in the first round of voting, the Bundestag has 14 days to elect a chancellor by absolute majority, with no limit on the number of rounds of voting.
  • If this does not lead to success, a ballot is to be held directly afterwards, in which a simple majority is sufficient for victory (the candidate with the most votes wins).

The term of office of the newly elected Federal Chancellor begins at the time he is appointed by the Federal President.

Chancellor election – term and re-election

Once the chancellor election is complete, the Federal President presents the successful candidate with the certificate of appointment. The term of office usually ends when the Bundestag convenes for the first time in a new legislative period.

Thus, the Chancellor, as head of the government, is in office for four years, just like the members elected in the previous Bundestag election. However, it is possible to shorten the term of office. This is because parliamentarians are allowed to express their no-confidence in the current chancellor during a legislative period and vote him out of office. In this so-called constructive vote of no confidence, a successor must be directly appointed by an election. This has happened once in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany so far. Helmut Kohl was thus elected Chancellor as successor to Helmut Schmidt.

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