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Germany

Germany Waits on Early Election Decision

Will he or won't he? Bets are on that German President Horst Köhler will dissolve parliament and call for an early general election in September. His decision will come this week in a TV broadcast.

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Insiders say Köhler (left) will do what Schröder wants

Köhler has until July 22 to make the high-stakes decision about whether to approve or reject Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's scheme of prompting a national poll one year ahead of schedule.

According to a report in Der Spiegel, Köhler intends to make his decision known in a television broadcast. But will it be a case of history repeating itself?

Twenty-two years ago on Jan. 7, 1983, then President Karl Carstens appeared on television to announce he was dissolving parliament. The elections that followed cemented the 16-year rule of the Christian Democrats (CDU) under Helmut Kohl.

The word from insiders is that Köhler has already internally signalled his readiness to call new elections. If he does, he'll be in step with opinions of the majority of German citizens. In a Forsa poll commissioned by the Bild am Sonntag, 75 percent of Germans are in favor of an early election in September.

Schröder's will

Vertrauensfrage Bundestag Gerhard Schröder

Earlier this month, Schröder deliberately lost a no-confidence vote before parliament, in the hopes that a new election would secure him a renewed mandate for his reform agenda and silence critics within his Social Democratic Party (SPD).

Meanwhile his challenger Angela Merkel, the first female chancellor candidate, is flying high in the polls and mobilizing her Christian Union bloc for a battle over who can pull Germany out of its protracted economic slump.

Schröder gave an impassioned speech before parliament July 1 outlining his reasons for seeking a new mandate following a poll drubbing in May in the SPD heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia, the country's most populous state.

"On May 22, the question arose as to whether, with this election result, my policies and I are still fully able to function," he said, describing the political gridlock he said had gripped the country and the shaky state of his center-left coalition with the Greens party.

Immediately afterwards, he went to Köhler to ask him to bring the election forward.

SPD with most to lose

Angela Merkel in Kosovo

CDU chancellor candidate Angela Merkel on the campaign trail, here visiting German Bundeswehr soldiers in the town of Prizren, Kosovo on Friday, July 15, 2005.

Seeking guidance in his decision, which could still face a constitutional court challenge, Köhler asked Schröder to provide more evidence of his claim that he no longer enjoys the secure backing of his coalition.

He replied last week with a 200-page dossier his spokesman Bela Anda said provided "a documentation of the difficulties of implementing his government program."

Although most observers and all the main political parties expect Köhler to grant Schröder's request and order new elections, an opinion poll released Thursday indicated that the chancellor could have the most to lose.

His Social Democrats scored just 27 percent versus 42 percent for Merkel's CDU/CSU, according to the Infratest dimap institute based on a survey conducted July 12-13.

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