Koehler gives go-ahead forearly elections in September
22 July 2005, BERLIN - The final hurdle for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's plans for a general election a year ahead of schedule was cleared Thursday when President Horst Koehler gave his formal approval. In a nationally televised address, Koehler said he had informed Schroeder he had dissolved the Bundestag parliament and set the new election for September 18 - just as Schroeder had envisioned. Schroeder, who was informed by Koehler in advance, welcomed the move, calling it "a positive signal that
22 July 2005
BERLIN - The final hurdle for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's plans for a general election a year ahead of schedule was cleared Thursday when President Horst Koehler gave his formal approval.
In a nationally televised address, Koehler said he had informed Schroeder he had dissolved the Bundestag parliament and set the new election for September 18 - just as Schroeder had envisioned.
Schroeder, who was informed by Koehler in advance, welcomed the move, calling it "a positive signal that allows our nation to move forward" from a position of political stagnation.
With opinion surveys showing 80 per cent of Germans want a general election in September, a year ahead of schedule, and with all major political parties already engaged in active campaigning, Koehler had been under tremendous pressure to give his blessings.
As Germany's figurehead leader, his approval was in many ways only a formality. However, had he refused to approve the election, Germany would have been thrown into political chaos.
Waging an uphill battle to save his centre-left coalition government, Schroeder threatened not to budge from office but to serve out his full term should Koehler refuse to agree to call for the new election.
Koehler reportedly was incensed by that threat, telling aides Schroeder had given him no alternative but to give approval, "to avert political chaos" in Germany.
Schroeder rocked Germany's political establishment by announcing in late May that he wanted to bring forward by a year the country's national election, originally slated for September 2006.
The move followed a humiliating defeat for his Social Democrats (SDP) in a key state poll in what was once the party's political heartland.
But even after Koehler's announcement, dissidents in the parliament vowed to challenge his decision all the way to the Federal Constitutional Court.
Greens MP Werner Schulz accuses Schroeder of having bent the law to bring about a new election when in fact the legal avenue would be for him to resign.
Schulz's constitutional lawyer is Wolf Ruedigar Schenke, who also challenged the vote of no-confidence in 1982 that brought down Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and elevated Helmut Kohl to power. The high court turned down Schenke's objections then, but legal experts say it is unclear whether they will do so this time.
Germany's major political parties, which support the call for an early poll, have been locked in active campaigning since May 22 when Schroeder said he planned to push to bring the ballot forward by a year after his ruling Social Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat in a key state election.
A recent poll showed the opposition Christian Democratic-led political bloc, led by chancellor-candidate Angela Merkel, ahead of Schroeder's ruling Social Democrats (SPD), but losing ground as September approaches.
The poll, drawn up by market researchers Forsa for the weekly Stern magazine, showed support for the Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) dropping two percentage points from last week to 44 per cent.
The opposition alliance however maintains a commanding lead over the SPD, who polled just 27 per cent of support.
Meanwhile, a far-left alliance of dissatisfied Social Democrats and former East German communists called the Left Party is gaining ground.
Support for the new left alliance highlights the deep opposition in parts of the country, especially in the east, to the tough welfare and labour market reforms that have been introduced by the Schroeder government and that would be likely to be continued by Merkel.
Analysts predict that the general election might well result in the formation of a grand coalition headed by Christian Democrats with Schroeder's SPD as junior members.
Subject: German news