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The Federal Convention, also known as the Federal Assembly (German: Bundesversammlung), is a special constitutional body in the political and federal institutional system of Germany, convened solely for the purpose of electing the President of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundespräsident), either every five years or within 30 days of the premature termination of a presidential term. The Federal Convention mirrors the aggregated majority situation of the Bundestag and the parliaments of the 16 German federal states.
The Basic Law mandates that a maximum of three votes can be held. On the first two rounds, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of delegates to be elected. After that, in the third round, a plurality of all delegates voting is sufficient for election to the office of Federal President. Any delegate may nominate candidates; usually, every parliamentary group puts forth candidates, and there may sometimes be consensus candidates who are supported by several of the major parties.
The Bundesversammlung is constitutionally mandated to meet not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of the incumbent president, or not later than 30 days after a premature exit (as a result of resignation, death or removal) from the office of the Federal President.
The Basic Law charges the President of the Bundestag the responsibility and authority to call a meeting of the Bundesversammlung.
Each member of the Bundesversammlung may suggest candidates for the office of the Federal President. In practice, however, only the candidates designated in advance by the parliamentary groups are suggested.
The procedure of the election of the Bundespräsident consists of a maximum of three secret votes by written ballot. If one of the first two votes ends with an absolute majority for one of the candidates, this candidate is elected immediately. If the first two votes do not lead to an absolute majority, a plurality is sufficient in the third and final vote. According to the Grundgesetz, the President is elected without a debate at the Federal Convention. The candidates are usually nominated by one or more parties but do not generally run a campaign. The candidate whose party or parties have the majority in the Bundestag is considered to be the likely winner and, in the main, has achieved the necessary majority – however, the Assembly can be turned around by state delegates (if the Bundestag opposition has done well in state elections), this can indicate the result of an upcoming general election ("If you can create a president, you can form a government"). The President of the Bundestag closes the session of the Bundesversammlung once the elected candidate accepts.
The Bundesversammlung is chaired by the President of the Bundestag (or one of the Vice-Presidents, if the President stands as a candidate – as was the case with Karl Carstens in 1979). The Bundesversammlung is dissolved once the elected President declares that they accept their election, which decision may be delayed for up to two days (however, no would-be president-elect has ever done so).
The Bundesversammlung includes the entire membership of the Bundestag, and an equal number of state delegates elected by the state or 'Länder' parliaments specifically for this purpose, proportional to their population. The Länder representatives are not solely politicians. It is common that the parties nominate several notable people from television, sports, and the music industry. Still, most of the Länder representatives are politicians. Especially those in the state cabinet are often nominated. From the time of their nomination until the closing of the session of the Federal Convention its members enjoy parliamentary immunity with regard to prosecution by public authorities in very much the same way as members of the Bundestag do.
Since 1979, the Bundesversammlung has traditionally met on May 23, the anniversary of the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the anniversary of the Basic Law coming into force on this day in 1949. This has changed since the resignations of former presidents Horst Koehler and Christian Wulff.
On 12 September 1949, the first Bundesversammlung met in Bonn, which served as the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany before reunification with East Germany. From 1954 to 1969 the Bundesversammlung was convened at the Ostpreußenhalle in Berlin, leading to protests from the German Democratic Republic on each occasion it met. As a consequence, on March 5, 1969, the Soviet Union sent MiG-21 warplanes to fly over the venue in West Berlin. From 1974 to 1989, the Bundesversammlung met in the Beethovenhalle in Bonn. Since 1994, the meeting place has been the Reichstag building in Berlin. After the renovation of the Reichstag building, the German Bundestag moved to the building in April 1999. Since the meeting of the Bundesversammlung held in May 1999, the body has convened in the plenary chamber of the Bundestag at the Reichstag building.