German President Horst Köhler will announce late Thursday whether he will dissolve parliament to pave the way for an early general election this fall after Chancellor Gerhard Schröder purposely lost a confidence vote.
Köhler had till Friday to decide if elections were called for
"President Horst Köhler will address citizens in a televised
speech from this evening at 8.15 pm (1815 GMT) to announce and explain his decision on the chancellor's proposal based on Article 68 of the constitution," Köhler's office said in a statement.
Köhler's decision will come one day before his constitutionally mandated deadline, exactly three weeks after Schröder engineered his own defeat in a parliamentary vote of confidence with the aim of prompting elections one year ahead of schedule.
The German press and the majority of analysts are predicting that Köhler will give the go-ahead for elections, probably to take place on September 18. New elections must take place within 60 days of the dissolution of the parliament.
Yet, despite the clear vote of no confidence, which the ruling coalition received in the parliament, Köhler is entitled to make his own decision whether to dissolve the parliament or not.
Not a done deal
"It is outrageous how all the parties are behaving as if the election were already a done deal," said Wolf-Rüdiger Schenke, lawyer representing the Green party legislator Werner Schulz.
If Köhler gives a go-ahead to the new elections, several members of the parliament, including Schulz, intend to take the issue to the Federal constitutional court. The opponents of the new elections argue that Chancellor Schröder's vote of no confidence was "faked" because the Chancellor still had a majority in the parliament.
The parliamentarians should be able to fire themeselves, according to Wolfgang Thierse
The German constitution, which was adopted in 1949, makes it deliberately difficult for early elections to be called, and only under extraordinary circumstances.
One of the main goals of the 1949 constitution was to create conditions for political stability in the post-war period and prevent governments from rotating, the way they did in the 1920s and early 30s. It is widely believed that the political instability of the period of the Weimer Republic, when German had no less than 12 chancellors, had lead to the rise of Adolf Hitler.
President of the German parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, however, does not believe that the current misuse of the confidence vote mechanism is the best solution for calling early elections.
"I believe we should change it," said Thierse.
The German constitutional court may have to rule on the legality of new elections
According to Thierse, the parliament ought to be able to dissolve itself, without the intervention of the president of the republic. As an additional security measure, one could require a 2/3 or 3/4 majority for the motion to be passed.
"One shouldn't be changing the constitution in a haphazard sort of way," Thierse said, hoping that the issue would be raised and discussed in the next legislative period.
When asked about how he felt about the current situation and the upcoming decision by President Köhler, Thierse replied he was "not really nervous."
Thierse stressed, however, that President Köhler was free to make his own decision. "He can even decide against the country's mood," Thierse said.
Eager for early elections
The country is very much in favor of new elections. According to a recent poll, 73 percent of the population believes the elections are necessary. 83 percent Germans believe the new elections will bring a change of government, but 76 precent also believe that the new conservative government would not do a better job than the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and the Green party.
Chancellor Schröder's letter asking the parliament for a vote of confidence
Schröder has been undermined by a series of poor performances for his Social Democratic Party (SPD) in state polls and says he needs to know if the electorate still backs a set of sometimes painful social welfare reforms he has already begun to introduce.
In an impassioned speech before the vote of confidence on July 1, Schröder said he was seeking new elections because the question arose whether "my policies and I are still fully able to function".
Immediately afterwards, he went to President Köhler, asking him to bring the election forward. Seeking guidance in his decision, Köhler asked Schröder to provide more evidence of his claim that he no longer enjoys the backing of his coalition.
The chancellor replied with a 200-page dossier his spokesman Bela Anda said provided "a documentation of the difficulties of implementing his government program." It included dozens of newspaper articles describing the malaise within the government and interviews with some of his most outspoken critics within the ruling coalition of SPD and Greens.
If elections go ahead, Schröder faces another headache with the creation of a new left-wing alliance known as the Left Party which risks drawing working-class support away from the Social Democrats.