Volkskammer

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People's Chamber
Volkskammer
Legislature of German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
Coat of arms or logo
Type
Type
History
Established 1949
Disbanded 1990
Preceded by Reichstag (1933-1945)
Succeeded by Bundestag (1990-today)
Seats 400
Elections
Last election
18 March 1990
Meeting place
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1990-0419-418, Berlin, Volkskammer während Regierungserklärung von Lothar de Maiziere.jpg
Palast der Republik
Flag of East Germany.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
East Germany

The Volkshammer (English: People's Chamber) was the unicameral legislature of the German Democratic Republic (popularly called East Germany).

The Volkskammer was initially the lower house of a bicameral legislature. The upper house was the Chamber of States, or Länderkammer, but in 1952 the states of East Germany were dissolved, and the Chamber was abolished in 1958. Constitutionally, the Volkskammer was the highest organ of state power in the GDR, and both constitutions vested it with great lawmaking powers. All other branches of government, including the judiciary, were theoretically responsible to it. By 1960, the chamber appointed the Council of the State, the Council of Ministers, and the National Defence Council.

In practice, the People's Chamber was a rubber stamp that did little more than give legal sanction to decisions already made by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and its Politburo. This was standard operating procedure in nearly all Communist legislatures. All parties were expected to respect the principles of democratic centralism and the leading role of the SED. As a result, all but two measures put before it prior to the Peaceful Revolution passed unanimously.

Membership[edit]

From its founding in 1949 until the first competitive elections in March 1990, all members of the Volkskammer were elected via a single list from the National Front, a popular front/electoral alliance dominated by the SED. In addition, seats were also allocated to various organizations affiliated with the SED, such as the Free German Youth.

The members of the chamber were elected in multi-member constituencies, with four to eight seats. To be elected, a candidate needed to receive half of the valid votes cast in their constituency. If, within a constituency, an insufficient number of candidates got the majority needed to fill all the seats, a second round was held within 90 days. If the number of candidates getting this majority exceeds the number of seats in the respective constituency, the order of the candidates on the election list decided who got to sit in the Volkskammer. Candidates who lost out on a seat because of this, would become successor candidates who would fill casual vacancies which might occur during a legislative period.

Only one list of candidates appeared on a ballot paper; voters simply took the ballot paper and dropped it into the ballot box. Those who wanted to vote against the ruling party's list of candidates had to vote using a separate ballot box, without any secrecy.[1] Seats were apportioned based on a set quota, not actual vote totals.[2] By ensuring that its candidates dominated the list, the SED effectively predetermined the composition of the Volkskammer.

The table below shows an overview of the reported results of all parliamentary elections before 1990, with the resulting disposition of parliamentary seats.

Election date Participation Agree Distribution of parliamentary seats
SED CDU LDPD DBD NDPD FDGB FDJ KB DFD SDA1 VdgB VVN
19 October 1950 98.53% 99.9% 110 67 66 33 35 49 25 24 20 6 12 19
17 October 1954 98.51% 99.4% 117 52 52 52 52 55 29 29 18 12
16 November 1958 98.90% 99.9% 127 52 52 52 52 55 29 29 18 12
20 October 1963 99.25% 99.9% 127 52 52 52 52 68 55 35 22
2 July 1967 99.82% 99.9% 127 52 52 52 52 68 55 35 22
14 November 1971 98.48% 99.5% 127 52 52 52 52 68 55 35 22
7 October 1976 98.58% 99.8% 127 52 52 52 52 68 55 35 22
14 June 1981 99.21% 99.9% 127 52 52 52 52 68 55 35 22
8 June 1986 99.74% 99.9% 127 52 52 52 52 68 37 21 32 14

1Eastern Bureau of the Social Democratic Party of Germany

In 1976, the Volkskammer moved into a specially-constructed building on Marx-Engels-Platz (now Schloßplatz again), the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic). Prior to the opening of the Palast der Republik the Volkskammer meet at Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus in the Mitte district of Berlin.

Initially, voters in East Berlin could not take part in elections to the Volkskammer, in which they were represented by indirectly-elected non-voting members, but in 1979 the electoral law was changed, to provide for 66 directly elected deputies with full voting rights.[3]

Protestor, January 1990
Ballot for the 1990 elections (written text reads "Sample")

After the 1990 election, the disposition of the parties was as follows:

Party/Group Acronym Members
Alliance for Germany CDU, DA, DSU 192
Social Democratic Party of Germany SPD 88
Party of Democratic Socialism PDS, former SED 66
Association of Free DemocratsDFP, FDP, LDP 21
Alliance 90 B90 12
East German Green Party and Independent Women's Association Grüne, UFV 8
National Democratic Party of Germany NDPD 2
Democratic Women's League of Germany DFD 1
United Left VL 1

Presidents of the People's Chamber[edit]

The presidency of the People's Chamber was held by a non-Communist for most of that body's existence; only one SED member ever held the title. This was to keep up the appearance that the GDR was governed by a broad-based coalition. The president of the People's Chamber was the third-highest state post in the GDR (after the chairman of the Council of Ministers and the chairman of the State Council) and was ex-officio vice president of the country.

Name Entered office Left office Party
Johannes Dieckmann 7 October 1949 22 February 1969 LDPD
Gerald Götting 12 May 1969 29 October 1976 CDU
Horst Sindermann 29 October 1976 13 November 1989 SED
Günther Maleuda 13 November 1989 5 April 1990 DBD
Sabine Bergmann-Pohl 5 April 1990 2 October 1990 CDU

The last president of the People's Chamber, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, was also interim head of state during the last six months of East Germany's existence due to the State Council having been abolished.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42532-2. 
  2. ^ Eugene Register-Guard October 29, 1989. p. 5A.
  3. ^ Longman Companion to Germany since 1945, Adrian Webb, Routledge, 2014

External links[edit]