Losing Catholic votes at German polls

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People of German nationality who aren’t from the nation’s overwhelmingly Protestant majority tend to vote for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which rules out the inclusion of Christian nationals within its electoral coalition, and the Christian Social Union (CSU), which would, under a similar arrangement, also exclude Catholic voters.

Reforms to Germany’s electoral system introduced last year, which were largely aimed at improving the functioning of the country’s postwar parliament and reforming a system often criticized for being dysfunctional, were reportedly complicated by the requirement of a majority of Christian nationals within one electoral constituency to vote in its election.

Specifically, 22.8 million German citizens of Catholic, Protestant or other faiths had to either nominate a candidate for the country’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, or refrain from voting in the election entirely. The authority of those who declined the right to vote could be exercised in four ways: they could list a candidate as their preference on the ballot; abstain in one or more constituencies; place third preference candidates; or abstain in all constituencies, and see their vote awarded to the candidate of their choice. In 2000, the average number of votes designated as belonging to a Catholic voter across those constituencies was around 800,000.

Although only one in four of those 23.8 million, or 12.4 million, Catholics didn’t vote, 4.4 million Catholic voters did not have a candidate nominated from their constituency. A total of 3.9 million Protestants chose to abstain. Of these Catholic voters, 1.5 million did so in all 26 local constituencies where the incumbent German president stood for re-election, as they are entitled to do, and 27.5 million could not vote due to their Christian nationality.

Indeed, the 13 million electors of Christian faith who weren’t obliged to vote due to their religion voted for a candidate in 4.7 percent of the registered polling stations, and almost 1 million voted in every constituency without a specified candidate from their faith. That 1.5 million Catholic voters were disenfranchised in this way by not being represented by a representative in any of the 140 positions the president holds is considered one of the greatest obstacles to the success of the Christian Democrat-Socialist coalition. The voters who backed the Christian Democrat candidate, Joachim Gauck, remained almost entirely Catholic.

Few voters polled by the state election commission complained about the Constitution banning them from voting in many constituencies. “In some districts, people’s votes were just ignored completely,” admitted Christian Democrat Stephan Vater, a member of the Bundestag who was elected president with 80 percent of the German vote. Nevertheless, anti-constitutional majorities have emerged in the Bundestag in previous years, but not this year, with members of Merkel’s party breaking ranks to vote with the Left Party, socialists and Greens.

Sources: Christian Democrat, website

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