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United States. Office of the US High Commissioner for Germany / A program to foster citizen participation in government and politics in Germany

6. Political parties and election systems,   pp. [19]-21 PDF (2.1 MB)

Page 20

basis, so that the voters had a choice only between
parties, and the members elected were taken from
the list in order of their names as determined by
the party committee. There were no local nominees.
The voter in reality elected a party, not a repre-
Many party leaders recognize that the plurality
system is sounder than the list system, but the
minority parties in particular oppose a return to
it because it reduces or eliminates their legislative
Despite this, the Ministers President of the eleven
west German states promulgated a law for the
election of the first federal Bundestag which modi-
fied the list system. It provided that 600/o of the
members should be chosen by plurality vote from
single member districts and 400/0 elected from party
lists (made up by states, not for West Germany as
a whole), and no members were elected from the
lists -if the party failed in a given Land to elect one
representative by direct vote or to secure 100/0 of
the total votes.
Comparable laws are in effect in Bavaria, Schles-
wig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and North Rhine
Westphalia. A similar Hesse law, and Bremen law
providing for direct election for all seats, were
passed for the first Landtag elections, but new
laws will be required for the new elections in
1950 and 1951.
The constitutions of the four U.S. Zone Laender
all authorize the rejection of party list candidates
of parties who fail to cast a certain percentage
(100/0 or 50/o) of the total vote.
While considerable progress has been made to-
ward adopting the plurality system, its extension,
and indeed its retention where already adopted,
appear to depend upon changing party interests.
The CDU favors it on a national basis but in one
Land some party wheelhorses were ready to join
with the opposition to repeal it when they realized
that there was no longer assurance of their elec-
tion from the party list. The SPD supported it in
two Laender, where it did not harm them, but op-
poses it elsewhere. In another Land, both CDU and
SPD wishes to repeal the straight list system, but
it remains because they could not agree on the
details of a plurality system. In other words, elec-
tion reform in Germany, as elsewhere, is a matter
of practical politics.
Voters Leagues (Waehlergesellschaften) have been
organized in several states, but a small number of
non-political leaders in community life furnish
most of the members, and the Leagues so far have
no broad public basis. There is evidence
that some of the leaders are more idealistic than
practical. For instance, they concentrate on the
direct election system as the solution of the whole
problem, which it is not, and they refuse to support
movements to attain election reform by stages,
which is politically the only practicable course.
In individual cases legislators and officials have
attempted to keep in touch with the sentiment of
their constituents on public questions, and to keep
the constituents informed upon legislative action.
In most cases, however, they depend upon regular
party meetings and set speeches which do not reach
the people as a whole and do not keep the legis-
lator in touch with public opinion. He tries to in-
struct rather than to exchange views.
A few months ago one Land party announced
its intention to have its Bundestag members report
regularly to a group of the public upon develop-
ments in Bonn, party policy, and similar matters.
The plan itself was not of great merit since the
public representation was to consist of selected
members of the party. Its significance lies in the
fact that immediately the competing parties be-
came conscious of their obligation to the public and
indicated their intention to adopt similar practices.
(1) General
Except in the field of election reform, it is doubt-
ful that any great advance toward the stated ob-
jectives will be registered until the program for
citizen participation in government (Item 1 of the
program) has made more progress. Citizens must
learn to make their votes effective in the selective
choice of the person they wish to represent them,
and the political parties must learn by practical
experience that those candidates have the better
chance of success who show themselves responsible
to their constituencies. The present system is favor-
able to the party leaders. But political parties in
Germany as elsewhere are pragmatic and they will
change their practices when they find that a change
is necessary for political success.
Individual legislators may, however, be per-
suaded of the value to them of a closer contact
with their constituents. Over a period of time this
will pay dividends in votes, as it does elsewhere,
and other legislators will learn its value.
In addition, voters can be informed of the weak-
nesses of the present system and shown what
reforms are desirable so that they will understand
the problem and its remedy.
If individual parties in individual Laender or
localities would as a matter of party policy deal
with the people as a whole and on local matters
permit their legislative members to represent con-
stituencies rather than the party, it is probable that
this would have a popular appeal and immediate
repercussions on other parties. The experiment
described in C. above illustrates this possibility.
As to election reform, it should be possible to
capitalize the political situation in various Laen-
der, and through development of the Voters'
Leagues to bring increasing pressure on the Land-
tage. It is essential to develop a broader base of
support for the Voters' Leagues and to induce them
to subordinate ideological purity to practical poli-
tics and possibilities. They must also be persuaded
that election reform alone will not accomplish the
results desired.
A special program to interest German youth in
politics and public affairs must be devised. The
details are not set forth here since this must be
fitted into the youth program as a whole. First of
all, it must be realistic because the distrust of Ger-
man youth for politics today is based upon its
feeling that political programs are empty and mean
nothing. Youth must be shown how it can participate
directly and effectively in public affairs, and how
the weight of such action can produce results with
legislators and public officials. These lessons must
be connected with and directed at the problems
which interest youth, which are the fundamental
problems confronting Germany as a nation - hous-
ing, employment, the integration of refugees, com-
munity improvement, reform in public life, and
personal security.

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