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Opinion: Amending Germany's Election

Germany's highest court has cleared the way for next month's general election. Now there needs to be follow through with a constitutional amendment allowing the dissolution of parliament, says DW-WORLD's Marc Young.

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Legislative clarity from Germany's Constitutional Court justices?

Okay folks, we officially have an election.

After months of uncertainty and plenty of procedural shenanigans, Germany's general election will take place on Sept. 18 -- one year earlier than expected.

On Thursday, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled seven-to-one to reject the complaints of two MPs who had argued that Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's deliberate loss of a parliamentary no-confidence in July to bring the poll forward violated Germany's Basic Law.

In past columns, I've offered my thoughts on the unusual manner in which this election came about, so I'll spare you all of the gory details here. Suffice it to say the overwhelming majority of Germans want this chance to vote and now all of the country's democratic institutions -- parliament, president and constitutional court -- have signed off on Schröder's electoral endeavor.

After the election

Vertrauensfrage Bundestag Bundeskanzler

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder ahead of the confidence vote July 1.

Next month, either Angela Merkel will become Germany's first woman chancellor, or Schröder will have pulled off one of the greatest political comebacks ever to stay in office. But regardless of the outcome, it is extremely important for the winner to restore some legitimacy to the political process after this summer's circus by pushing for a constitutional amendment enabling future chancellors to dissolve parliament.

Modern Germany is certainly stable and mature enough to support what countless other parliamentary democracies already do. This country may be presently facing difficult times as the economy stutters and the populace winces at unpopular reforms, however, it would be downright silly to contend Germany is on the verge of sliding back into the chaos seen during the Weimar Republic.

Would not the founders of the Bundesrepublik agree with me that as well as the post-war constitution has served Germany, it was not meant to remain unchanged in perpetuity?

The dangers of politics as usual

An amendment allowing the dissolution parliament with the backing of at least two thirds of all MPs should be nothing to fear in 2005. Far more damaging to Germany's democratic institutions would be for the country's leaders now to simply go back to politics as usual once the election is behind us.

Der Vorsitzende Richter des Zweiten Senats des Bundesverfassungsgericht, Winfried Hassemer, verkuendet am Donnerstag, 25. Aug. 2005, in Karlsruhe das Urteil im Verfahren ueber die Aufloesung des Deuts

Winfried Hassemer, Presiding Judge of the 2nd Senate of the German Federal Constitutional Court announces Thursday Aug. 25, 2005 in Karlsruhe, southern Germany, the decision that the early general elections can take place at Sept. 18, 2005.

Yes, Thursday's unambiguous court decision fortunately means only the very stubborn few can now contest the legitimacy of the Sept. 18 poll. However, the justices shied away from calling for any sort of legislative clarity on the subject. In doing so, they left open the possibility for similarly faked confidence votes in the future.

By failing to call for specific criteria for the use of the confidence measure to dissolve parliament, the court has effectively placed all responsibility with the German president. There is no need to consult the justices if a similar incident ever occurs.

Thankfully Germany's current president, Horst Köhler, has already said discussing an amendment is worthwhile. After having the extremely unpleasant job of sanctioning Schröder's intentionally fudged confidence vote, Köhler knows better than anyone why his successors should be spared his fate.

Hopefully he can step up his tentative support up a notch in order to convince Berlin's politicians that changing the Basic Law is a far better alternative to the parliamentary circus seen this summer.

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