Susan E. Scarrow
The 1949 (West) German Basic Law established a system of party-based democracy which has now endured for more than half a century. Yet today's political system is not identical to that of earlier years. Since the beginning of the 1980s new party alternatives have made coalition politics harder to manage, the established parties have lost votes and members, and waning public support for all the parties has drawn unfavourable attention to the parties' entrenched positions. These changes grew more pronounced in the 1990s, exacerbated, though not caused, by German unification. Developments reached a new stage in 1998, when one of the new parties of the 1980s, the Greens, became a party of government—an event made possible at least as much by the transformation of the Green Party itself as by a revolution in German politics. Nevertheless, despite the recent challenges to traditional political patterns, Germany remains very much a parties state. Parties still serve as the central mechanisms for political linkage and political decision-making, and the same big parties—Christian Democrats, Christian Socialists, or Social Democrats—are the principal players in state and federal coalition politics.
Germany's parties and party system have been shaped by the country's legal and institutional frameworks. To begin with, the breadth of the German party system was intentionally limited by constitutional provisions which allowed the prohibition of anti-democratic parties, and by the 1953 and 1956 electoral laws, which raised the nation-wide electoral threshold. 1 These laws helped reduce the number of Bundestag parties from eleven after the 1949 election to four after the 1961 election, and the party system retained this configuration for the next two decades. The German parties' internal politics and structures have also been marked by