1994 Elections in Sweden and Germany

Excerpts from The Almanac of European Politics 1995        

Matthew Cossolotto

Germany: Kohl's Coalition Continues...Barely

        When the dust settled after Germany's Bundestag elections, held October 16, 1994, incumbent Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) emerged bruised and battered but victorious, holding onto power with a razor-thin majority of 10 seats. In contrast, after the 1990 elections Kohl and his coalition partners reigned with a whopping 134-seat majority.
        The Bundestag is elected by a combination of direct constituency voting and proportional representation. Each voter has two votes, an Erststimme (first vote), which is cast for a specific candidate in a geographic district, and a Zweitstimme (second vote), which is cast for a party. Half of the members are elected by plurality of first votes; the remaining seats are divided among the parties according to their proportion of second votes and filled from party candidate lists. Only parties polling 5% or more of the second (party list) votes -- or win three first vote seats -- are eligible for a share of the proportional seats.
        All things considered, Kohl's CDU party, together with its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), did not fare too badly in the balloting. After all, a chancellor is expected to lose some luster after twelve straight years in power. The CDU/CSU won 41.5% of the vote, down just 2.3% from their result in 1990, yielding 294 seats compared with 319 four years earlier.
         An important factor in the in the dwindling power base of Kohl's coalition was the poor showing of his coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP). The FDP dropped precipitously from 11% to 6.9% of the vote, which translated into just 47 seats -- a steep decline of 32 FDP seats.
        The surprisingly strong showing by the environmentalist Green party, which cleared the 5% vote threshold and returned to the Bundestag in 1994 with 7.3% of the vote, and a respectable if unspectacular improvement in support for the Social Democrats (SPD), helped to shift the parliamentary balance of power ever so tantalizingly close to a majority for the left. In the end, the SPD scored 36.4% of the vote, up from 33.5% in 1990, and won 252 seats, a gain of 13 seats over 1990. The Greens gathered 49 seats, two more than the FDP.
        Also adding to the leftward swing in the Bundestag was the fact that the former Communists, the renamed Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), managed to win four districts in Berlin, which entitled them to collect a total of 30 seats on the strength of receiving 4.4% of the national vote. (According to Germany's intricate electoral system, unless a party wins at least three districts outright, the normal threshold for earning seats in the Bundestag is 5%.)
        Altogether, the three parties on the left won 331 seats, while the center-right Kohl coalition secured 341 seats in the 672-seat Bundestag. In terms of voting percentage, the combined left virtually split the vote with the ruling coalition, with 48.1% versus 48.4%. Thus Germany's electorate seems to be evenly divided between right and left. Kohl remains in office with very few votes to spare in the Bundestag, and with an upper chamber, the Bundesrat, that the opposition SPD has begun to dominate. The CDU benefitted from Germany's mixed member proportional voting system. The government's slim majority in the Bundestag was from 10 "overhanging mandates" (see Lexicon).
        The message from voters seems to have been: You may continue in power, Mr. Kohl, but don't go beyond your promises to strengthen German unity and to guide integration within the European Union. In the end, the voters apparently decided to play it safe and retain the chancellor they knew rather than install an untried and largely unknown chancellor in the person of SPD leader Rudolf Scharping.

1994 Presidential Elections: Kohl Wins with Herzog

        The Federal Convention, which consists of both the upper (Bundesrat) and lower (Bundestag) houses of parliament, has one primary function: to elect a federal president once every five years. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, although the president does represent the Federal Republic internationally, sign international agreements, and appoints the chancellor. On May 23, 1994 the Federal Assembly on a largely party-line vote, elected Roman Herzog, the head of the constitutional court and chosen candidate of Christian Democratic Chancellor Helmut Kohl, to succeed Richard von Weizsacker as president.
        Herzog's election, by a slender margin (only 696 votes of 1,320 possible), proved to be a good -- and accurate -- omen for Helmut Kohl's chances in the October general election. Both Herzog and Kohl managed to win by very slim margins.
        In replacing the highly respected Richard von Weizsacker (CDU), whose two terms as president won him wide praise both domestically and internationally, Herzog has some large shoes to fill.

Sweden: A Move to the Center-Left

        In September 1994, Swedish voters did just as all the pre-election opinion polls predicted: They returned former Social Democrat prime minister Ingvar Carlsson to power, ending the three-year conservative coalition government of Prime Minister Carl Bildt. The Social Democrats (SD) won 45% of the vote, more than 7 points better than their dismal 1001 showing of 37.6%. This gave them 161 seats, just 14 short of the 175 seats they needed for an absolute majority in parliament. The Left Party (VP) secured 22 seats, while the environmentalist Greens won 18 seats. Altogether, these three parties of the center-left won a total of 201 seats -- a whopping 47-seat gain from 1991.
        This shift was at the expense of the center-right parties, which suffered a stunning setback. Prime Minister Carl Bildt, the chairman of the Moderate Coalition Party, was forced to relinquish the reins of government. He had headed the government since 1991, when a four-party coalition government was formed by the Moderates, the Liberal People's Party, the Center Part, and the Christian Democratic Community Party. The Moderates held their own in the election, retaining the 80 seats they had won in 1991, but the Liberal, Center, and Christian Democratic parties lost 7, 4 and 11 seats, respectively. The right-leaning New Democracy Party failed to clear the 4% threshold, thus losing all 25 seats it had captured in the previous election. Altogether, the center-right parties lost 47 seats, from 195 in 1991 to 148 in 1994.
        The percentage of women elected to the Swedish parliament rose dramatically in 1994, increasing from 34% to 41%. This was spurred largely by the policy of the Social Democrats requiring a fifty-fifty balance between men and women among its office holders, which resulted in part from a threat by prominent women leaders to form a new party if the major parties did not nominate more women.

        Matthew Cossolotto is president of The Center for Voting and Democracy. This article is from his profiles of Sweden and Germany in The Almanac of European Politics 1995 (Congressional Quarterly, 1995), a guide to political activities in nineteen European democracies.


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