August 25, 2005

Top German court clears way for September 18 vote

KARLSRUHE, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's highest court
removed the final hurdle on Thursday to a September 18 federal
election, dismissing complaints that Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder's path to an early vote was unconstitutional.

The Federal Constitutional Court voted 7-1 that President
Horst Koehler had been right to dissolve parliament in July and
call a national election one year ahead of schedule.

Opinion polls suggest Schroeder's Social Democrats will
lose the election to the conservative Christian Democrats, led
by Angela Merkel.

Two rebel deputies in Schroeder's coalition had challenged
Koehler's decision, arguing that a July 1 confidence vote that
the chancellor pushed for and then deliberately lost was at
odds with the constitution.

Germany's constitution, framed after World War Two with the
political instability of the pre-war Weimar Republic in mind,
makes it difficult to dissolve parliament before the end of a
regular four-year term.

Still, with all the country's leading political parties in
favor of elections and the campaign now in full swing, the
court had not been expected to disrupt the early vote.

In 1983, the last time the court was called on to make a
similar ruling, it upheld the then-president's decision to
allow an early election even though the chancellor, Helmut
Kohl, had a comfortable majority.

It is the fourth time in post-war German history that
elections have been brought forward. The last time was in 1990
in response to German reunification.

Schroeder shocked the nation on May 22 when he called for
an early election following a heavy defeat in a regional poll,
saying he needed a fresh mandate to continue his program of
economic reforms.

Merkel's conservatives have pledged to further the reform
drive in Europe's largest economy, raising sales tax to fund a
lowering of non-wage labor costs, loosening rules on firing
people to encourage firms to hire and cutting income tax.

On the foreign front, the conservatives and their preferred
allies, the liberal Free Democrats, are vowing to improve
strained ties with the United States and thwart Turkey's bid to
join the EU in favor of a "privileged partnership."