The German Bundestag does not have the right to dissolve itself. For the legislative term of the Bundestag to end prematurely, the Federal President has to dissolve the Bundestag. The Basic Law (GG) provides for two such cases:
- Article 63 (4) of the Basic Law (Election of the Federal Chancellor)
The Federal President himself may dissolve the Bundestag only if a Chancellor has not obtained the absolute majority of the members’ votes. The person who, on the proposal of the Federal President, wins the votes of the majority of the Bundestag members is elected Federal Chancellor pursuant to Article 63 (1) and (2) of the Basic Law. If the person proposed by the Federal President is not elected, the Bundestag may elect a Federal Chancellor within fourteen days of the ballot by the votes of more than one half of its members (Article 63 (3) of the Basic Law). If no candidate is elected within this period, a new ballot will take place without delay in which the person who receives the largest number of votes (“simple majority”) will be elected. If the person elected obtains the absolute majority of the votes, the Federal President must appoint him or her Federal Chancellor within seven days. If the person elected receives only the simple majority of the votes, the Federal President must either appoint him or her within the above period or dissolve the German Bundestag.
- Article 68 of the Basic Law (Vote of confidence)
Article 68 of the Basic Law stipulates that “the Federal President, upon the proposal of the Federal Chancellor, may dissolve the Bundestag within twenty-one days” if a motion of the Federal Chancellor for a vote of confidence is not supported by the majority of the members of the Bundestag. The right of dissolution will lapse as soon as the Bundestag elects another Federal Chancellor with the majority of its members. If the Bundestag is dissolved, new elections must be held within sixty days pursuant to Article 39 (1) of the Basic Law.
A Federal Chancellor who, in accordance with Article 69 (2) (3) of the Basic Law, only continues to manage the affairs of his or her office until a successor is appointed does not have the right to request a vote of confidence.
Early elections were held in 1972, 1983 and 2005.
Procedure to be followed
If the Bundestag is dissolved, new elections will be held within sixty days (Article 39 (1), fourth sentence, of the Basic Law).
Pursuant to Section 52 (3) of the Federal Elections Act (BWG), the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community is authorised to shorten (generally by half) the periods and deadlines prescribed in the Federal Elections Act and the Federal Electoral Regulations (BWO) without the endorsement of the Bundesrat when the Bundestag has been dissolved. This was last effected by the Ordinance on Shortening the Periods Prescribed in the Federal Elections Act Concerning the Election to the German Bundestag in its 16th Legislative Term of 21 July 2005 (Federal Law Gazette I of 23 July 2005, p. 2179).
An early election is held in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Elections Act and the Federal Electoral Regulations just like a “regular” Bundestag election, only with shorter periods. For example, the number of supporting signatures required by the parties remains unchanged. There are no constitutional objections against this rule.
Compared with a regular Bundestag election, there are no changes for the voters. For instance, people who are not entered ex officio into the voters’ registers, such as Germans permanently living abroad, have to apply again for entry into the voters’ registers. People who wish to vote by post in the early elections also have to reapply.
Articles 39, 63, 68, 69 of the Basic Law (GG)
Section 52 (3) of the Federal Elections Act
Last update: 3 January 2022