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In some countries, there is an electoral threshold that political parties must cross to win seats in the parliament.

For example, in Germany, the threshold is 5% of national votes, in Sweden the threshold is 4% of national votes, in Denmark, the threshold is 2% of national votes.

But what if no party (or only one party) crosses the threshold? Is there a deadlock breaking mechanism such as rerunning the election?

For simplicity, let's just focus on Germany, Sweden, or Denmark. Other examples are welcomed too.

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  • How could that be different from a tied result, in which case the election would be re-run… subject to the rules of the local jurisdiction? Jan 1, 2023 at 3:40

6 Answers 6

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In , parliamentary elections have a 5% threshold for political parties (and 8-11% for coalitions of parties). The election law 247/1995, article 49 states that if less than two parties/coalitions qualify, the thresholds are reduced in steps of 1%, until at least two parties/coalitions qualify.

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In , there are at least twice as many seats as there are polling districts. Voters cast two votes:

  • Whoever gets the most Erststimme votes in a district is elected.
  • The remaining seats are divided among the parties with at least 5% of the Zweitstimme vote or at least 3 direct seats, taking the direct seats into account in a very complicated formula.
  • There is a special constitutional provision for any party representing the Danish minority in Schleswig-Holstein, they need just enough votes to get one seat according to the Zweitstimme formula, even if that is spread across districts.

So it would have to be 21 parties with less than 5% Zweitstimme each, and roughly 80% of the Erststimme seats going to independents or very regional parties, to create the scenario you describe.

A party getting a plurality in three districts, yet less than 5% overall, has been known to happen.

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    A party getting into the Bundestag with less than 5% of Zweitstimmen actually happened last election. Die Linke did not clear the 5% hurdle, but due to winning 3 direct mandates they got in.
    – Mookuh
    Dec 30, 2022 at 14:46
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    I don't quite see how this answers the question. OP asks what would happen in such a situation. Dec 30, 2022 at 23:40
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    @StephanKolassa The idea in Germany seems to be that such a situation is so extremely unlikely (in the current political landscape) that no provisions for it exists. If the political landscape changes in a way that such an event is seen somehow possible the laws would have to adjusted but they assumption is that there would be sufficient warning time beforehand.
    – quarague
    Dec 31, 2022 at 9:12
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    This is just stating the obvious and not answering the question.
    – DonQuiKong
    Dec 31, 2022 at 15:37
  • @DonQuiKong while that might be true it should at least address what would happen or if the laws cover it at all.
    – Joe W
    Dec 31, 2022 at 17:16
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In Germany there would still be direct seats, i.e. the first vote. They are not affected by any threshold. So I guess that in the extremely unlikely event, that no party achieves the 5% threshold, the Parliament in Germany could effectively only be reduced to half its typically size (i.e. the number of direct seats).

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    It would also have to be less than 3 direct seats.
    – o.m.
    Dec 30, 2022 at 8:08
  • Half the size would potentially work better than the current bloat. Dec 30, 2022 at 19:46
  • It would essentially be a first-past-the-post parliament full of independents. Not a problem de jure, but de facto impossible in current Germany.
    – gerrit
    Jan 2, 2023 at 7:01
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In Compensatory seats are available to parties that have:

  • won at least 1 constituency seat
  • obtained in two of the three regions of Denmark proper, a number of votes greater than the average number of valid votes per constituency in that region OR
  • Gained 2% of the national vote.

There is no scenario in which no party could qualify under one of these rules, and there are rather complex rules to then assign seats in parliament to all the parties that do qualify, and ensure that exactly 179 people are elected.

Constitutionally it is permitted for fewer than 179 people to be returned to parliament, but the election law is designed to ensure that all places are filled.

(Danish election act section 77)

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Parties take measures to ensure something like this might not happen. Even without changing the threshold law, other rules and/or tactical agreements might help smaller parties to gain seats anyway.

Until 2021, Turkey had the highest electoral threshold in the world of 10%. It was introduced in 1982 after the military coup. For the 2023 elections to the Grand National Assembly, it will be lowered to 7%.

The parliament has only one chamber. Its members are elected in 87 electoral districts that are mostly identical to the provinces. For a a total of 600 seats, the number of seats per district varies between 1 and 15. (It seems citicens living abroad are assigned a "home district". – With 3 million eligable voters, and 1.4m of them taking part in the 2018 elections, they are a very relevant part of the electorate.) The electoral threshold is applied nonetheless to the number of votes a party can achieve nationwide.

Article 78 of the Turkish constitution prescribes that if at least 5% (30) of the seats are vacant, a by-election has to be held within three months. While the constitution does not mention the deadlock case you describe, and is manly aimed at elected members standing down, it would certainly apply.

Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi üyeliklerinde boşalma olması halinde, ara seçime gidilir. Ara seçim, her seçim döneminde bir defa yapılır ve genel seçimden otuz ay geçmedikçe ara seçime gidilemez. Ancak, boşalan üyeliklerin sayısı, üye tamsayısının yüzde beşini bulduğu hallerde, ara seçimlerinin üç ay içinde yapılmasına karar verilir.
Genel seçimlere bir yıl kala, ara seçimi yapılamaz.

In case of a vacancy in the membership of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, by-elections are held. By-elections are held once in each election period, and by-elections cannot be held unless thirty months have passed since the general election. However, in cases where the number of vacant memberships reaches five percent of the total number of members, by-elections are decided to be held within three months.
One year before the general elections, by-elections cannot be held.

In 2018, the electoral law was changed to allow party alliances. Multiple parties would be grouped together under their alliance name on the ballot paper and be able to pass the threshold together. In practice, the MHP, whose poor ratings had triggered the proposal, and which the ruling AKP needed as a coalition party, would have been able to gain seats on its own. The only party profiting from the new law was the newly formed İyi Party as part of the oposition National Alliance.

As a further means, some candidates were accepted on lists of other parties, but after becoming members of parliament, returned their affiliation to their original parties. So while at the time of the election there were only one individual party and two alliances with a total of four parties gaining seats, there are now 14 parties (and four independents) represented in parliament.

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In , if no party gets over 4% (or 12% in a district) in an election there is no new parliament and the old one remains. It is likely that the government will announce an extra election in that case.

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