The Romanian and German parliamentary electoral system
In a broad sense, we define Democracy as the rule of the people. The implementation of this popular sovereignty can be accomplished by varying means. The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, perceived democracy as identity-based or participatory, a system in which the citizens represent themselves and are part of the political legislative process. Another and also the most widespread form of popular sovereignty is the representation of citizens by directly elected representatives. As part of all contemporary democracies, the parliaments embody the most important representative institution. The parliaments of Romania and Germany represent by their structure and composition two characteristic examples of democratically elected institutions. The Romanian Parliament is the political institution first referred to in the Romanian Constitution. It consists of two chambers, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Both chambers are elected in constituencies, by universal, equal, direct, secret and freely expressed suffrage, on the basis of a list system and independent candidatures, according to the principle of proportional representation. The existing option of identical election system of the two chambers of parliament confers them the same legitimacy, as both represent the expression of the will of the same electoral body. The German bicameral system comprises of the German Bundestag and the German Bundesrat. As the only directly elected institution in Germany, the Bundestag represents the most important institution in the consensus-building and decision-making process. Unique in international comparison, the German Bundesrat is just the second chamber in which the interests of the 16 German States (Bundesländer) are represented on a legislative level. (Beyme, Klaus von (2010): Das politische System der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Eine Einführung, 11. vollständig überarbeitete Auflage, Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag.)
Starting from the premise that democracy reflects the rule of the people, and that the parliaments, in this particular article the Romanian and the German parliament, embody the representative institutions by being directly elected, one question still seems to not have been answered: Do the elected representatives symbolize the popular sovereignty?
When analyzing the situation more deeply, one will see that the two chambers of the Romanian Parliament have different numbers of members; the Chamber of Deputies is composed of 332 Deputies and the Senate of 137 Senators. This differentiation is possible because the representation norm differs from one Chamber to the other. So, for the election of the Chamber of Deputies the representation norm is of one Deputy to 70 000 inhabitants, and for the election of the Senate, of one Senator to 160 000 inhabitants.
The number of Deputies and Senators to be elected in each constituency is determined on the basis of the representation norm, by relating the number of inhabitants in each constituency to the representation principle. In a constituency, the number of Deputies can never be less than 4, and that of Senators less than 2. The number of inhabitants that must be taken into account is the number existing on the 1st of July of the previous year, which is published in the Statistical Year-Book of Romania. If, 5 months before the election date, a general census has taken place, the number of inhabitants which is taken into account is that resulting from the census.
An interesting provision is provided in both the Romanian constitution and the electoral law, which grants special rights to national minorities. Legally constituted organizations that represent national minorities have the right to at least one Deputy (or Senator) mandate, even in the case of insufficient election results.
When this provision is not considered, a minority organization should have at least 5% of the average number of national votes in order to be entitled to a Deputy mandate. (http://www.cdep.ro/pls/dic/site.page?id=108)
With regard to the representation norm, the ( Deputy/ Senator) mandates that are assigned to such minority organizations are equal to conventionally elected (Deputy/Senator) mandates. (http://www.thediplomat.ro/reports_0707_1.php)
The Federal Republic of Germany is, according to the constitution, a democratic and social federal state where the state sovereignty derives from “the People”. The political system is organized according to the pattern of parliamentary democracy, whereby the parliament represents the center of political attention. Directly elected by the people, the German parliament is democratically legitimized and responsible. Furthermore, the Bundestag is also responsible for the election and dismissal of the government.
The German Bundestag must consist of at least 598 members who are elected in a general, direct, free, equal and secret vote for a term of four years. By being elected, the deputies receive the mandate to represent the interests of the electorate and thus to realize the form of representative democracy, namely the rule of the people. After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the electoral law was changed. The deputies are elected from the 299 constituencies. The constituencies are approximately the same size, about 240.000 people entitled to vote. Constituencies that differ by more than 25% form the average have to be recut. In this electoral system, every voter has two votes. The first voice is given to the direct candidate of the constituency, resulting in the direct election of the first 299 deputies. With the second voice, one will vote for the party list. Cumulated with the party lists of all states, these votes will determine the other 299 deputies.
In the German Bundestag, just like in the Romania parliament, the threshold of 5% of the total votes has to be fulfilled, or at least three direct candidates have to be elected, in order for the party to be represented at the Bundestag. (Linn, Susanne/Sobolewski, Frank (2012): So arbeitet der Deutsche Bundestag. Organisation und Arbeitsweise. Die Gesetzgebung des Bundes, 25. Auflage, Rheinbreitbach: NDV-Verlag.)
Once we have established the general framework for the Romanian and the German parliaments, we can start to analyze the actual election process. The Romanian electoral system is a version of a mixed electoral system, which combines a single round of voting in single member constituencies with a two-round system of seat allocation for the parties that surpass an electoral threshold of 5%. Only the candidates who obtained over 50% of the votes in single-member constituencies are automatically elected. The seats that remain are distributed among the political parties first at the county level (by using the Hare quota) and then at the national level (by using the Hondt method), provided that they pass the 5% threshold. The German electoral system is also a version of a mixed electoral system, combining a single round of voting in single member constituencies, but with a two-vote system for one chamber. While the 5% electoral threshold has to be fulfilled in order to be part of the Parliament, the 299 direct candidates can win their constituency even if they do not reach 50% of the votes, but have gathered the most votes in their constituency. The other 299 seats still available are distributed among the political parties at the regional and national level.
The result is that in both the Romanian and German parliament, the number of parliamentary seats is flexible.
Yet in Romania the number of deputies will increase if a party is able to elect its candidates with 50% of the vote in the single-member constituencies. So, the more single member constituencies a party wins, the less likely it is to benefit from the redistribution at the county level and from the supplementation of seats at the national level. This statement is valid as well for the parties that are not able to win the single member constituencies systematically.
In Germany the election law was changed in so far that the redistribution at the regional and national level will not be affected by the directly elected deputies. In this way, no party can lose a seat in the parliament, because the first or direct vote percentage is better than the second or party lists one.
(Decker, Frank (2011): Brauchen wir ein neues Wahlrecht?, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, Parlamentarismus, bpb Bonn, in [URL: http://www.bpb.de/apuz/33520/brauchen-wir-ein-neues-wahlrecht?p=all], Stand 07.08.2012.)
When summing up the facts and judging by comparison, one would be likely to say that both the Romanian and German system symbolize popular sovereignty through their elected representatives. However, if we were to consider the possibility that out of the many parties, only few actually manage to reach the 5% threshold, then all of those who are under this 5% remain unrepresented. Continuing on this pattern and looking back on the last elections for the German Bundestag, where two parties reached 4,9% and another 6% went to other parties, we would come to the result that over 15% of the voters are not represented by the elected deputies. Additionally, when it is considered that 50% + 1 are enough for a majority, it would mean that the sovereignty or the rule of the people is not reflecting an actual majority. Following this pattern, one would agree that democracy, carried out through its elected parliamentary form, is not the ruling of the majority, but the ruling of the largest minority which have the same goals and interests.
The parliamentary democracy and the parliamentary elections are without a doubt the best contemporary way to determine and to carry out popular sovereignty. But just like Rousseau’s views on democracy are outdated today, one should not settle for an albeit good system, which could be improved.
Beyme, Klaus von (2010): Das politische System der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Eine Einführung, 11. vollständig überarbeitete Auflage, Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag.
Decker, Frank (2011): Brauchen wir ein neues Wahlrecht?, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, Parlamentarismus, bpb Bonn, in [URL: http://www.bpb.de/apuz/33520/brauchen-wir-ein-neues-wahlrecht?p=all], Stand 07.08.2012.
Linn, Susanne/Sobolewski, Frank (2012): So arbeitet der Deutsche Bundestag. Organisation und Arbeitsweise. Die Gesetzgebung des Bundes, 25. Auflage, Rheinbreitbach: NDV-Verlag.
Robbe, Partizia/Wahlen, Dierk (2012): Aktueller Begriff. Negatives Stimmgewicht und Überhangmandate, Wissenschaftliche Dienste, Deutscher Bundestag, in [URL: http://www.bundestag.de/dokumente/analysen/2012/Negatives_Stimmgewicht.pdf], Stand 10.08.2012.