No-confidence vote first steptowards September elections
1 July 2005, BERLIN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Friday lost a rare no-confidence vote he instigated in order to topple his own government and allow early elections in September. A total of 151 members of parliament's lower chamber voted in support of Schroeder's Social Democratic (SPD) alliance with the Greens, while 296 voted 'no' to express no-confidence and 148 abstained. This meant Schroeder's government failed to win the necessary 301 vote 'chancellor majority' in the Bundestag. But parli
1 July 2005
BERLIN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Friday lost a rare no-confidence vote he instigated in order to topple his own government and allow early elections in September.
A total of 151 members of parliament's lower chamber voted in support of Schroeder's Social Democratic (SPD) alliance with the Greens, while 296 voted 'no' to express no-confidence and 148 abstained.
This meant Schroeder's government failed to win the necessary 301 vote 'chancellor majority' in the Bundestag.
But parliament's vote, while an important step, does not mean early elections sought for September 18 have been decided.
Federal President Horst Koehler has 21 days to approve holding an election and Germany's highest court is expected to be asked to rule on the controversial move by Schroeder to essentially rig a vote of no-confidence.
In his long-awaited speech explaining his motives for seeking early elections, the Chancellor said bitter regional election defeats for his SPD, culminating in the crushing loss of industrial North Rhine-Westphalia state in May were a major reason he wanted an early vote.
Schroeder also blamed leftist members in his party and Greens ally for seeking to undermine efforts to push through crucial reforms covering labour markets, taxes and social welfare dubbed 'Agenda 2010.'
"The reform Agenda 2010 has led to fights between the parties and within the parties ... and I cannot deny that my party has especially suffered under this," admitted the Chancellor.
Schroeder warned this had made the slim SPD-Greens majority of just three votes in parliament unstable and could lead to problems in crucial areas, including his efforts to win European Union membership for Turkey and boosting ties with Russia and China.
But the Chancellor also slammed the opposition Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) for what he termed "a destructive blockade" of his reforms through their control of parliament's upper chamber, the Bundesrat.
Angela Merkel, the CDU/CSU chancellor candidate, replied by saying Schroeder's government itself had shown it was incapable of governing since being torn by strife over reforms.
Merkel insisted the main reform problem was discord within the ruling SPD over trimming back Germany's social welfare state.
"We need less state and more freedom ...," said Merkel.
Schroeder, who is battling a weak economy and unemployment of over 11 per cent, will now formally request early elections be called by President Koehler.
If Koehler approves by his July 22 deadline, then new elections must then be held within 60 days.
But legal experts have strong doubts over whether Schroeder should be able to orchestrate a no-confidence vote. This was done in 1982 by Helmut Kohl, but Germany's highest court has set tough restrictions on such moves and demands a real situation of political instability.
"The problem is that Schroeder has not lost a single key vote in parliament - that's what makes justifying this move so difficult," said Volker Jakobs, a veteran political analyst for N-TV.
Koehler could reject new elections on legal grounds even though most observers do not expect such a move given that all major parties want an early vote.
A more difficult hurdle could be posed by lawsuits planned by smaller parties which oppose early elections because they say their resources are too small to allow them to mount a campaign swiftly enough.
Werner Schulz, a Greens party member and former East German dissident, also plans a high lawsuit aimed at blocking early elections.
"This is a faked no-confidence vote," said Schulz in a speech to parliament, adding it reminded him of East Germany's rubber stamp parliament, the Volkskammer, where members did whatever they were told to by the ruling parties.
The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe will thus likely have the final say on whether Germany gets early elections and this means a final decision on whether the September 18 vote goes ahead may not come until late August.
The Constitutional Court decision may be complicated by SPD leader Franz Muentefering, who in an apparent rhetorical blunder, told parliament "we are certainly aware Gerhard Schroeder has the trust of the SPD parliamentary faction and that we still want to have him as Chancellor."
A leading German political scientist, Juergen Falter of the University of Mainz, warned these remarks could "seriously endanger" Schroeder's chances of getting early elections.
Subject: German news