The German Bundestag changed the election laws today.

The CSU could now face the following situation at the next general election: They win nearly all constituencies in Bavaria, but they only get 4,9% of the votes in Germany (ca. 30%-35% of the votes in Bavaria). Then they would get no seats in the Bundestag at all.

On the other hand, the CSU could also avoid to take part in the election, and support "independent" candidates in each constituency (which, by coincidence, happen to be CSU party members). If I understand the new law correctly, these "independent" candidates would get seats in the Bundestag if they win in their constituency.

Is this a flaw of the law, or do I misunderstand the situation?


2 Answers 2


Yes, candidates that are members of the CSU could stand as "independent" candidates, but with the following restrictions:

  • They must not be nominated as candidates of a party list in their state.
  • If the party decided to advance a list at all, it would not only have to consist of a different set of candidates, each successfull "independent" would lower the count of their party votes.
  • The candidates cannot take advantage of party financing for their campaign. Also, while party lists have a right to financial compensations from the Bundestag if they obtained 0.5% of the votes, independent candidates have to obtain 10% to get that support. It must be noted that the party would be barred from using its funds to support non-party candidates. If they violated that rule, the Bundestag could fine them with a sum that is the double of what they spent (§ 31b Parteiengesetz).
  • Only parties can form a parliamentary group (Fraktion) on the basis of their own decision. A group consisting of independent representatives needs approval by a vote of the Bundestag. (§ 10 Geschäftsordnung des Deutschen Bundestages) In the case of the CSU, the CDU group could admit the independents as "guests", so in practical terms nothing would change from the current joint group CDU/CSU.

The report of the Bundestag committee on interior affairs sums up its discussion as follows (Drucksache 20/6015, S. 13f):

[Es muss] auch parteiunabhängigen Bewerbern möglich sein, in einem Wahlkreis zu kandidieren. Diese Möglichkeit sieht der Entwurf auch weiterhin vor. Für das Erringen eines Sitzes durch parteiunabhängige Wahlkreisbewerber setzt § 6 Absatz 2 jedoch keine Deckung durch Zweitstimmen ihrer Partei voraus, während § 6 Absatz 1 diese für das Erringen eines Mandats durch Wahlkreisbewerber, die von einer Partei aufgestellt sind – neben dem Erhalt der meisten Erststimmen im Wahlkreis – zur Voraussetzung macht. Diese unterschiedliche Regelung ergibt sich daraus, dass parteiunabhängige Wahlkreisbewerber gerade nicht von einer Partei aufgestellt sind, von deren Zweitstimmen ihr Sitz gedeckt sein könnte. Damit sind parteiunabhängige Wahlkreisbewerber gegenüber Wahlkreisbewerbern einer Partei im Vorteil, denn sie erhalten ein Mandat schon dann, wenn sie nur die meisten Erststimmen im Wahlkreis erhalten...

Sie ist zudem gerechtfertigt, um Chancengleichheit für parteiunabhängige Bewerber sicher zu stellen. Denn diese können nicht auf die gleichen strukturellen, politischen und finanziellen Ressourcen zugreifen wie Bewerber, die von Parteien aufgestellt werden. Sie können beispielsweise die regionale oder überregionale Organisationsstruktur einer Partei nicht nutzen... Auch finanziell können sie nur mit – wenn auch gegenüber Parteien erhöhten – staatlichen Mitteln nach § 49b Absatz 1 rechnen, wenn sie mehr als 10 % der abgegeben Erststimmen im Wahlkreis erhalten, können aber nicht auf darüberhinausgehende Mittel der Partei zurückgreifen; auch ihre Möglichkeiten, ihren Wahlkampf beispielsweise durch Spenden zu finanzieren, ist gegenüber Parteibewerbern eingeschränkt, deren Wahlkampf mittelbar durch steuerlich privilegierte Spenden an die Partei finanziert werden kann...

Um zu verhindern, dass Bewerber, die auf der Landesliste einer Partei kandidieren, gleichzeitig – und in dieser Eigenschaft ohne formelle Anbindung an die Partei – als parteiunabhängige Bewerber kandidieren..., wird die Möglichkeit von parteiunabhängigen Wahlkreisbewerbern, für eine Partei auf einer Landesliste zu kandidieren, ausgeschlossen... Dabei wird aber die Möglichkeit ausgeschlossen, die hieraus resultierenden Vorteile mit den Vorteilen einer Parteikandidatur zu kombinieren, so dass eine Überprivilegierung vermieden wird.

Translation by DeepL:

[It must] also be possible for non-party candidates to stand in a constituency. The draft continues to provide for this possibility. However, section 6(2) does not require a party's second votes to cover the winning of a seat by a constituency candidate who is independent of a party, whereas section 6(1) makes this a prerequisite for the winning of a mandate by a constituency candidate who is nominated by a party - in addition to receiving the most first votes in the constituency. This different regulation results from the fact that candidates for constituencies who are independent of a party are not nominated by a party whose second votes could cover their seat. Thus, party-independent constituency candidates have an advantage over constituency candidates of a party, because they receive a mandate even if they only get the most first votes in the constituency...

It is also justified in order to ensure equal opportunities for non-party candidates. This is because they cannot access the same structural, political and financial resources as candidates who are nominated by parties. For example, they cannot use the regional or supra-regional organisational structure of a party.... Financially, too, they can only count on state funding under section 49b (1) - albeit at a higher level than parties - if they receive more than 10% of the first-past-the-post votes cast in the constituency, but cannot fall back on party funding beyond this; their possibilities to finance their election campaign, for example through donations, are also limited compared to party candidates whose election campaign can be indirectly financed through tax-privileged donations to the party ...

In order to prevent candidates running on a party's state list from simultaneously running - and in this capacity without formal affiliation to the party - as non-party candidates..., the possibility for non-party constituency candidates to run for a party on a state list is excluded.... However, the possibility of combining the advantages resulting from this with the advantages of a party candidacy is excluded, so that over-privileging is avoided.


The CSU (Christian Social Union) is a regional party that only runs for elections in one federal region (Bavaria) of Germany. They typically get 5-7% of all second votes and win 6-8% of all direct seats in Germany in Parliamentary elections, which means that according to the old election law, they were entitled to compensatory mandates. Being very close to the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), they often took part in governments in Berlin.

The new election law removes the compensatory mandates, the overriding of the 5% threshold for 3 direct seats and limits the number of direct seats to the second vote results while increasing the number of direct seats. This is quite a change. There will be winners and losers. Die Linke (the left) indeed got only 4.9% of second votes last time and would be in acute danger, the CSU might also be in danger as you said if they get less than 5% (and even if not they would still suffer because they would not profit from winning all direct mandates in Bavaria and keeping these seats). Even FDP (Liberal Democratic Party), who voted in favor of the new law, would be in danger because they too scored less than 5% once in the last 10 years.

Consequently, the opposition parties announced that they want to go to the Supreme Court with this matter. It may well be that the Supreme Court does not find the new election law fair enough and invalidates it. There is enough time before the next general election to decide on that.

One way out may be your proposed solution - all direct candidates of CSU could run as independent candidates where second votes would not be counting as limiting under the new law (and the Supreme Court may well see this as unfair advantage/disadvantage for parties) and then it may even be able to increase its number of seats (all direct seats from "independent candidates" and additional seats from second votes), but it's not clear if this kind of faking to be an independent candidate would really work. The future would have to show under which circumstances a candidate is really independent and under which circumstances it isn't.

That's why the new election law is widely criticized as poorly crafted and departing from a successful model where other alternatives (like lowering the number of direct seats) for lowering the number of seats weren't considered more. It's also arguably making the matter not simpler.

  • 2
    Sorry, but I had a specific question which you do not really answer. Instead you say the law is "widely criticized", which is not my perception. It is criticized by those parties who were better off with the old law. Mar 18, 2023 at 8:27
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    Those who are flagging this as low quality, please explain in your comments why - I am not a German, but I felt this answer is a good effort to answer the question. It explains the changes in the law, and how it affects some parties, and what objections others have to it and why they have gone to court. That's a good enough answer to "Is this a flaw of the law, or do I misunderstand the situation?"
    – sfxedit
    Mar 18, 2023 at 16:16
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    @sfxedit: this is just commentary "other criticized it too" and otherwise just repeating the question's premises, not answering it. Mar 19, 2023 at 10:32

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