German elections go aheadafter high court green light
25 August 2005, KARLSRUHE, GERMANY - German elections entered their crucial phase on Thursday after a high court ruled the early vote called by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for September 18 could go ahead.
25 August 2005
KARLSRUHE, GERMANY - German elections entered their crucial phase on Thursday after a high court ruled the early vote called by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for September 18 could go ahead.
Judges of the Federal Constitutional Court rejected complaints by two members of parliament that Schroeder engineered a no-confidence vote in the chamber to pave the way for early elections instead of waiting until the scheduled vote in autumn 2006.
Both parliamentarians, who are members of the Chancellor's own Social Democratic (SPD)-Greens coalition, had argued Schroeder still had a narrow - but workable majority.
Seven judges voted in favour of tossing out the complaint with just one justice dissenting.
Political leaders expressed relief over the decision.
"The voters now have the chance to determine the future of our nation," said Federal President Horst Koehler who last month approved Schroeder's call for early elections and dissolved parliament.
Chancellor Schroeder welcomed the ruling in a brief statement which swiftly turned into a campaign pitch for his own re-election.
"Today's decision is an important development ... It is now clear that voters will elect a new Bundestag on September 18," said Schroeder, adding: "For me it's about getting a confirmation for my reform policies."
But Presiding Judge Winfried Hassemer complained the court had been forced to make a very tough decision.
"The court had to chose between cholera and the plague - poor court," said Judge Hassemer, adding: "In this sense the court could only make mistakes."
Nevertheless, Hassemer said the court accepted what some critics have termed Schroeder's rigged July 1 Bundestag vote of no confidence in which members of his own governing parties were told to abstain.
"As a matter of principle the chancellor needs a reliable political majority," said Judge Hassemer.
Schroeder's SPD-Greens government has a slim three-vote majority which was threatened by SPD leftists opposed to the Chancellor's economic and labour market reforms.
"What is reliable?" asked Hassemer, adding: "From the outside this can only be partially evaluated." This echoes views of many legal experts who said both the court and President Koehler were obligated to take Schroeder at his word that the government's majority was threatened.
Germany's constitution sets high hurdles for dissolving parliament and calling early elections, partly in a reaction to instability caused by fast changing governments during the ill-fated Weimar Republic in the inter-war period.
The post-war constitution, or Basic Law, restricts the right of the Federal President to dissolve parliament after the experience of the old Reich president having held far more power in this area.
A high court ruling to stop the vote would have been a stunning decision pitching Germany into political crisis. Election campaigning has been in full swing for weeks with posters plastering most German streets.
The country's top six opinion polls show Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) challenger Angela Merkel and her Free Democratic (FDP) ally have a slim majority of between 49 per cent and 51 per cent.
Schroeder's ruling SPD-Greens government is trailing with between 36 per cent and 38 per cent, the polls show.
But with a new Left Party polling up to 10 per cent, some analysts predict Merkel's centre-right bloc will fail to win a majority. This could force a 'grand coalition' of Merkel's CDU/CSU and Schroeder's SPD, which both leaders say they don't want.
Subject: German news