The current German chancellor has been in power since 2005 and has a great chance in keeping the position for another 4 years. Compared to most other parliamentary democracies this is an extremely long period of time - most other government leaders last for at most a single election cycle. The same applies to all of Merkel's predecessors - Kohl stayed in power for 16 years and Schroder for 8 years.

So which part of the German system makes it so stable? Is it their election​ model? Or is it just that German parties are inherently​ more stable and scandal free?

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    Maybe it's also demography. Population is aging rapidly and older people vote more stably. Jun 6, 2017 at 9:53

2 Answers 2


So which part of the German system makes it so stable? Is it their election​ model? Or is it just that German parties are inherently​ more stable and scandal free?

First, and foremost there is no limit on the number of terms the chancellor can take in Germany, other countries use this mechanism to limit the length of a premiership.

Second, there are about 5-6 parties in parliament with one major party standing out, the CDU. Representing the center-right part of the political spectrum, it often scores ~40% in parliamentary elections, making it highly probably to be part of any governing coalition and even more probable to provide the chancellor, which usually comes from the biggest party in a party-coalition.

Third, the CDU is known for supporting its party leaders (and chancellors) for a long time (Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Kohl, Angela Merkel all served much longer than 10 years). Big scandals are indeed rare (at least during the time of their premierships) and competitors within the party are usually weakened by the current leader until a turning point (a defeat, a scandal) arrives.

So there you are: No inbuilt limitation, a single, very strong party and a tradition of not changing the leader.

It's not that uncommon though, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister for 11 years, Tony Blair for 10 years and Vladimir Putin is already in his third presidential term (all in parliamentary states).

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    Fotunately the question wasn't whether it is a good thing to have leaders that long. Jun 6, 2017 at 9:48
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    Russia is a bit different since their elections are a farce. Otherwise a good answer. Jun 6, 2017 at 10:33
  • saying that it is "not uncommon" and offering only one extra example is a bit strange to me, tbh, and I would then ask what's your definition of "common". (and I would offer the counterexample of Italy, another parliamentary state)
    – Federico
    Jun 6, 2017 at 11:05
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    Not sure if comparing Merkel to Putin is a good idea ;-)
    – user11249
    Jun 6, 2017 at 12:20
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    There is a major difference with the UK: the first-past-the-post system. That's what's somewhat puzzling about Germany and it is in fact quite unusual among parliamentary democracies using PR.
    – Relaxed
    Jun 6, 2017 at 13:13

The party system is a big part of it. Most of the post-war period was dominated by a three-party system (four if you count the CSU), with the Greens coming later and finally the various avatars of the SED/PDS after 1990. In other parliamentary democracies with proportional voting, it's typically necessary to seek alliances with a number of small parties and those junior partners have a lot of leverage. Not so in Germany, which makes coalitions much more stable.

And this is deliberate. In the immediate post-war period, even before the creation of the West-German state, allied military governors used the license system to prevent divisions between parties and especially encourage the creation of a large Christian-Democrat political party (as opposed to the separate catholic and protestant parties that existed during the Weimar period). A few years later, the 5% threshold was introduced to get rid of a few small parties that won seats in the first two elections (like the refugees movement).

There are also a few other constitutional mechanisms (like the konstruktives Misstrauensvotum) are also designed to make governments more stable but they have been taken over by other countries without necessarily producing the same effects.

But the truth is that the changes since the reunification have upset that a little bit, robbing the FDP of its traditional king-making role and leaving the left scrambling for new alliances. Consequently, it's now the third time that Germany is governed by a “large coalition” of both the right-wing and left-wing main parties, which was originally considered a worse-case fall-back position for everyone involved.

Merkel was able to navigate all this quite successfully, even though her party experienced mixed electoral results during this period and she has had to govern with three different coalitions. That's so much a story of continuity and stability as it is one of luck and personal cunningness. If you compare her first cabinet and the last one, she is literally the only person still standing with Wolfgang Schäuble and Brigitte Zypries. The SPD was also in power for most of this time but she managed to hang that around their neck and emerge as the winner while SPD leaders have come and gone in internal fights.

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