Although German constitutional commentators consider only the Reichstag and now the Bundestag to be the German parliament, in fact since 1871 Germany has been governed by a bicameral legislature, of which the Reichstag served as a lower house and the Reichsrat (after 1949 the Bundesrat) as the upper house. Constitutionally, the Reichsrat represented the governments of the federal German states.
According to the 1919 Weimar Constitution, the members of the Reichstag were to be elected by general universal suffrage according to the principle of proportional representation. Votes were cast for nationwide party lists. Elections were to be held at the end of a legislative session of four years. Because of some special requirements, there were still inconsistencies between the total share of votes received by a party and its share of the seats. Hitler was not in power yet.
There was no hard and fast threshold for winning a seat in the Reichstag. In practice, a party could do so with as little as 0.4 percent of the national vote—one seat for some 60,000 votes. While this provision was intended to reduce wasted votes, it also resulted in a large number of parties being represented in the chamber. Combined with the nationwide party-list system, this made it extremely difficult to form a stable government.
Moreover, each political party wanted to pull Germany in a different direction and parties often refused to compromise with, or even recognize, other parties. As scholar Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote in 1943:
Catholic Centrists wanted to create conditions in Germany which would make it easier for the individuals to save their souls; Socialists denied the existence of souls and divided people into classes; the German Nationalists were interested in language and culture; while the National Socialists put the main stress on race. Whereas some looked at pocketbooks, others at the pigmentation of the skin or the index of the skull, fruitful discussions became impossible. When the speaker of one party indulged in his oratory, the others walked out. It was not worth while to listen to somebody's opinion when you knew that his premises were all wrong. The grim determination to silence the unconvincible enemy by execution or imprisonment already existed prior to 1933 in many parties.