Nothing happens without Parliament: the electoral responsibilities of the State Parliament
The State Parliament is not the only constitutional body to be directly elected by its citizens at state level. Members of the State Parliament themselves elect representatives to other constitutional bodies and institutions. Besides passing laws, overseeing the work of government and exercising the Budget Act, the various electoral responsibilities of the State Parliament are among its central functions and further show how the various state authorities are intertwined. Of particular note is the election of the state’s prime minister, the head of the state government – without the will of the State Parliament, there is no government.
Electing the Speaker of the State Parliament
At the very start of the legislative period, the Members of the State Parliament elect the Speaker, the vice presidents and the recording secretaries. Together they form the presidium – an executive committee of the State Parliament of Lower Saxony. In terms of protocol, the Speaker of the State Parliament is considered the ‘first lady’ or ‘first gentleman’ in the state of Lower Saxony, even ahead of the state’s prime minister.
The parliamentary Speaker is responsible for making sure that the rules of procedure are followed in the plenary sittings. The Speaker is the public face of the State Parliament, heads the State Parliament administration and exercises the Budget Act and disciplinary power in the parliamentary building. Last but not least, as the highest ranking representative of Parliament, the Speaker accepts petitions and makes themselves available to citizens in relation to parliamentary matters.
Electing the state’s prime minister
The state’s prime minister is elected by the State Parliament by the majority of its members without debate. Votes are cast by secret ballot. This is stipulated in Article 29 Para. 1 of the Constitution of Lower Saxony. The state’s prime minister sets out the guidelines for government policy and thus has a significant influence on governance. The head of government presides over the state government, conducts its affairs and represents the state of Lower Saxony in public where this is not the job of the Speaker. The State Parliament is also involved in forming the government. Although the state’s prime minister appoints the other members of the state government, the state government as a whole must be approved by the State Parliament – in this way Parliament is involved in forming the government.
Electing members to the Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court in Bückeburg could be described as Lower Saxony’s supreme court. The nine members and nine deputy members are elected for seven years by a two-thirds majority of the Members of State Parliament in attendance. Members can be re-elected once. The Constitutional Court, a constitutional body in its own right, is independent of the State Parliament and the government and since its foundation in 1955 has been responsible for ensuring compliance with the constitution of Lower Saxony.
Electing the members of the State Audit Office
The president and vice president of the State Audit Office are elected by a two-thirds majority of the Members of the State Parliament in attendance (Article 70 Para. 1 Constitution of Lower Saxony). The term of office is twelve years. Candidates are proposed by the state government. The other members are proposed by the president of the State Audit Office and appointed by the state government with the approval of the State Parliament (Paragraph 4 of the law on the State Audit Office of Lower Saxony).
All members have judicial independence. The role of the State Audit Office is to oversee the accounts and the economic viability and regularity of budgetary and economic management. The State Audit Office reports to the State Parliament and notifies the state government. The president of the State Audit Office is also legally responsible for cross-region municipal auditing.
Electing members to the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung)
The Federal Assembly meets for one purpose only: to elect the Bundespräsident, the German federal president who is the head of state of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Federal Assembly is made up of the members of the Bundestag and an equal number of members elected by the state parliaments. For the last Federal Assembly on 12 February 2017 the State Parliament of Lower Saxony appointed 25 members from the CDU party, 23 from the SPD party, nine from the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen party and six from the FDP party.