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Bundestag re-elects parliamentary President Lammert ahead of coalition talks

Germany’s lower house of parliament has re-elected Norbert Lammert as its president. The first sitting of the new Bundestag precedes coalition talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and Social Democrats.

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New German parliament constituted

Lawmakers convened in the Bundestag in Berlin on Tuesday for the inaugural meeting of parliament following the September 22 election in which Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives cruised to victory on 41.5 percent of the vote.

The main topic on Tuesday's agenda was the election of a new parliamentary president to lead the lower house for the next four years.

As expected, Norbert Lammert (pictured center) of Merkel's Christian Democrats was re-elected, this time with almost 95 percent of the 625 votes cast. Lammert has held the job since Merkel first took office as chancellor in 2005.

Parliament subsequently elected six vice presidents, who will help to chair its sessions over the next four years. They comprise two conservatives, two Social Democrats and one each from the opposition Greens and Left party.

Next step - coalition talks

Tuesday's constituent session came a day ahead of the first formal coalition talks aimed at forming a so-called "grand coalition" government, between Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and allied Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) who were in opposition in the previous parliament.

Late last week, Merkel's conservatives and the SPD completed exploratory talks and decided to enter formal negotiations.

The ecologist Greens, who also had exploratory talks with Merkel's team, opted out of further negotiations last week.

Social Democrat members cautious

The conservatives and Social Democrats governed in a previous grand coalition under Chancellor Merkel between 2005 and 2009, when her CDU and the Bavarian CSU won just four more seats than the SPD.

This time, however, many the 470,000 grassroots members of the SPD fear another coalition with the CDU/CSU will reduce the Social Democrats to the role of junior partner.

Leading Social Democrats, though, have said that they are determined to get a number of key policy issues that they campaigned on written into any coalition agreement with the conservatives. Among these is a general minimum wage, something which the CDU/CSU have repeatedly ruled out.

Merkel's bloc ended up just five seats short of a deciding majority in last month's election, with 311 seats in the 631-seat chamber. The SPD ended up with 193 seats in the new Bundestag.

If Merkel's grand coalition talks lead to the expected left-right alliance ruling Europe's biggest economy, the government benches would dwarf those of the opposition, comprising the Greens and the Left party. They occupy 127 seats in all, or about 20 percent in the chamber.

That would make the Greens and Left party jointly the smallest opposition in the Bundestag since 1969. They have warned that this will deprive them of key control mechanisms, such as the right to demand parliamentary committees of inquiry, for which they would need 25 percent of votes.

FDP defeat 'bitter'

Late on Tuesday, Federal President Joachim Gauck handed discharge documents to ministers of Merkel's previous coalition cabinet, saying he felt for five departing ministers of the pro-business liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

They lost their parliamentary seats because the FDP failed to clear the the Bundestag's five-percent threshold by garnering only 4.8 percent.

"I know that the election result is bitter for you and the Free Democratic Party," Gauck told the FDP ministers.

Germany's constitution proscribes, however, that the incumbent ministers remain in office on a caretaker basis until a new government is formed.

The new parliament, the 18th in post-war Germany, has a record number of women, at 36 percent. Legislators with migrant backgrounds account for 5.9 percent of the chamber's 631 parliamentarians. That percentage is only one third compared to the spread of residents with migrant backgrounds nationwide.

Of the 631 parliamentarians, 401 are re-elected deputies and 230 are new to parliament.

pfd,ipj/dr (dpa, Reuters, epd, AFP)

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