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Monday, 23 September, 2002, 05:19 GMT 06:19 UK
Q&A: Germany's election

Germany's 61 million voters have voted in a general election to select a new parliament, and consequently, a new government and a new chancellor for the next four years.

How have the parties done?

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) won 38.5% of the vote, level with opposition challenger Edmund Stoiber's CDU/CSU.

This is a drop of almost 2.5% from the SPD's showing four years ago, and is therefore disappointing for Mr Schroeder.

However, given the party's poor showing in opinion polls during the run-up to the election, there must be relief in SPD ranks that it did not lose any more ground.

The Greens - who formed a coalition with the SPD in the last government - are delighted to have come in third, with over 8%.

The Liberals (FDP), after boasting they could get over 18% had a disastrous showing at around 7%.

And the former communist PDS, which had been seen as a potential power broker, had a poor showing, gaining under 5% of the vote. Although two of its deputies have gained seats, the party will not be able to function as a fully-fledged faction.

Who will form a government?

The governing coalition will be the same as before the elections: the Red-Green combination of the SPD and the environmentalists.

Chancellor Schroeder has been saved by the Greens, after the SPD's drop in support.

In coalition with them, he will have a narrow majority of 11 seats in the new Bundestag.

Coalition talks will soon get under way, with the Greens' good results giving them more leverage to demand influential positions in a new administration.

Although Mr Stoiber's conservatives did as well as the SPD, he was let down by the FDP's crash in support.

How does the election work?

Voters cast two ballots, one for a candidate in their constituency, and one for a party. The party vote determines the overall division of seats in parliament - which has at least 598 seats - under a system of proportional representation.

A party may win 65 constituency seats, say, out of a total of 299, but then get this figure topped up by virtue of winning more than 10% of the party vote. To be represented in parliament, a party must cross the 5% barrier. Extra seats are added to parliament if parties win more constituency seats in parliament than they are entitled to under the party vote. This is one of the reasons it takes so long to work out exactly who has the most seats in an election as tight as this one.

What issues were at the forefront of voters' minds?

In August the disastrous floods that hit the east and north of the country, causing some 15 million euros of damage, were the number one concern. It was Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's confident handling of the crisis that probably did most to bring about the SPD's recovery in the polls. But by the first week of September the signs were that unemployment and the shaky state of the German economy had returned to the top of the list of hot election issues.

What is the difference between the social democrats and the conservatives?

To judge by their manifestoes, not much. Both parties aim to capture the centre ground, and their programmes are correspondingly middle-of-the-road. This election is more about the personalities of the two main candidates, Gerhard Schroeder, and his Bavarian challenger, Edmund Stoiber. It was the first in German history to have featured presidential-style television debates. Mr Stoiber presented himself as the man who can repeat Bavaria's economic success at national level. Mr Schroeder relied more on his personal charm - which contrasts with Mr Stoiber's formal manner - and his skill as a media performer.

Why has foreign policy become so important?

Mr Schroeder won votes by speaking out against US plans for military action against Iraq. But he was criticised by the conservatives for wrecking the US-German relationship - especially after a row over alleged comments by Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin apparently comparing US President George W Bush to Adolf Hitler. The US has reacted angrily to the reported comments.

Why are voters worried about the economy?

Mr Schroeder promised to get unemployment down to 3.5 million, but after some early successes, it has risen back above four million, almost to the level it was when he took over as chancellor from the veteran CDU leader, Helmut Kohl. German economic growth, expected to be well under 1% this year, is among the lowest in Europe. Meanwhile, Germany's budget deficit is in danger of exceeding the agreed eurozone limit of 3% - as Brussels publicly warned it earlier this year.

Gerhard Schroeder

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02 Sep 02 | Business
23 Jul 02 | Europe
05 Sep 02 | Europe
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