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Broadly, the term ‘mandate’ means an order or an authorization. Mandate stems from the Latin ‘mandare’, which means ‘giving out’ or ‘giving’.
Mandate in Politics
In political terms, a mandate describes the authority given by an electorate to someone acting as its representative. Parliamentarians often have a political mandate, and therefore assume the task of representing the will of their voters.
One must also differentiate between free and imperative mandates:
A free mandate grants authorization without any preconditions, meaning that the holder of the mandate is free and bound solely to the confines of his/her conscience. An example would be mandates in the German Bundestag.
An imperative mandate sets certain restrictions on the policies an elected official can enact. The holder of a mandate is therefore required to reflect the will of his/her electorate.
In electing the German Bundestag, one also distinguishes between direct mandates, party mandates and overhang mandates.