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The election of the Federal Chancellor

Every four years the citizens of Germany get to decide who will represent them in parliament, the German Bundestag. The Bundestag then decides who will be head of the Federal Government.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is sworn in by the President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble, in the German Bundestag Angela Merkel being sworn in Photo: Bundesregierung/Steins

After consulting with each of the parliamentary groups in the Bundestag, the Federal President then proposes a candidate for the office of Federal Chancellor.

The election process

The process for electing the Federal Chancellor is set out in Article 63 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz). It provides that the Chancellor be elected by the Bundestag without debate on the proposal of the Federal President.

To be elected, the candidate must secure the votes of an absolute majority of the Members of the Bundestag, that is half of the Members plus at least one additional vote. This is sometimes called the “chancellor majority”.

If the candidate fails to secure an absolute majority in the first round of voting, a second round is held. The Bundestag then has 14 days to elect another candidate to be Chancellor. There is no limit to the number of possible ballots, although an absolute majority is always required (Article 63.3 of the Basic Law).

If this second round of voting also fails to produce a result, the election process enters a third phase in which a new election must take place immediately. The person who receives the largest number of votes (relative majority) is then elected to be Chancellor.

Where the Chancellor-elect secures an absolute majority, that is the votes of the majority of the Members of the Bundestag, the Federal President must appoint the Chancellor within seven days of the election. If the Chancellor-elect receives only a relative majority, i.e. the most votes, the Federal President must either appoint the Chancellor within seven days or must dissolve the Bundestag (Article 63.4 of the Basic Law).

Term of office

The Federal Chancellor’s term of office begins when he or she is presented with the letter of appointment by the Federal President once the election process has been completed. It normally ends when a new Bundestag convenes (Article 69 of the Basic Law).

Helmut Schmidt (right) congratulates Helmut Kohl on his election as Federal Chancelloropen popup Helmut Schmidt congratulates Helmut Kohl on his election as Federal Chancellor Photo: Bundesregierung/Wegmann

However, the Bundestag may pass a vote of no confidence in the head of government and dismiss the Chancellor. To do this the Members of the Bundestag must simultaneously elect a successor (Article 67 of the Basic Law).

So far in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany there has only been one Chancellor who took office after a constructive vote of no confidence, namely Helmut Kohl. He succeeded Helmut Schmidt in 1982.

According to Article 69 of the Basic Law, the Federal Chancellor must, at the request of the Federal President, continue to manage the affairs of office until a successor is appointed.