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Germany

What is a Confidence Vote?

The current debate in the German Parliament focuses on whether or not Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has enough support from his coalition to continue governing.

A vote of confidence is a parliamentary motion used to measure the stability of a government. In a parliamentary system, the Chancellor or Prime Minister can call for a vote of confidence whenever the backing of the majority is in doubt. Such a motion is usually applied as a method for tightening up stray coalition members by putting pressure on them to side with the ruling party or face being forced out.

In the case of Germany, votes of confidence are relatively seldom. If a vote actually takes place on Friday as Schröder plans, it will only be the fourth time in post-war German history.

According to paragraph 68 in the German Constitution, the Chancellor may call for a confidence vote, but if he fails to achieve a majority -- currently 335 votes -- the President is then obliged to dissolve Parliament on behalf of the Chancellor.

The Greens, the junior coalition partner in Schröder's government, criticize the Chancellor's decision to proceed with the no confidence vote. Senior Social Democrat Gernot Erler said, however, that Schröder felt he had no other option except the confidence vote. It is crucial to Schröder's administration, that he receive full backing from the coalition before voting on the issue of deploying German troops to Central Asia.

Losing the confidence vote would leave the Chancellor with several options, none of which are desirable under the current situation: calling for new elections, running a minority administration, or finding a new coalition partner.