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All Eyes on Dresden in German Election

DW staff (win)
September 12, 2005

Germany's election on Sunday could face legal challenges amid allegations of unfairness: Voters in the eastern city of Dresden will head to the polls two weeks later due to the death of a parliamentary candidate.

Dresden is bound to become election central if the race is closeImage: AP

The election in Dresden was postponed by Germany's federal election commissioner after Kerstin Lorenz, the candidate for the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) died of a stroke last week. A replacement has already been found in Franz Schönhuber, the former national leader of another right wing-extremist party, but there isn't enough time to reprint ballots before Sunday.

As the race for the chancellery becomes tighter with the election just days away, politicians and legal experts are mulling the ramifications of a late vote in Dresden, with some saying that a delayed election could throw into question the legality of the national vote.

Experts such as Werner Patzelt, a political scientist from Dresden University, predicted political turmoil if the race turns out to be extremely narrow as in the last election, where Social Democrats (SPD) only had about 6,000 votes more than the Christian Democrats (CDU).

Vertrauensfrage Bundestag Bundeskanzler
The German parliament's make-up might not be known until Oct. 2Image: AP

"Should the question of whether we'll see a grand coalition (CDU and SPD) or one between the CDU and the (free-market) liberal Free Democrats (FDP) hinge on a single mandate, then indeed the postponed election in the Dresden constituency may be of crucial importance," he told DW-RADIO.

Splitting the election?

Hans Meyer, a professor of constitutional law and former president of Berlin's Humboldt University, said he believes the election outcome will be challenged should Dresdeners vote after the results in the rest of the country have already become public.

Stimmzettel für die Wahl zum Deutschen Bundestag
Germans have two votesImage: dpa

In an interview with Bavarian public broadcaster BR, Meyer added that Dresdeners should at least vote for a party on Sunday. In Germany, each voter has two votes -- one to elect a direct candidate for his or her constituency and another to choose a political party that then gets parliamentary seats according to the percentage of votes it achieves.

One party that supports such a splitting of votes in Dresden is Germany's new Left Party, which consists of the successor party to the former communist party of East Germany and disgruntled Social Democrats from western Germany.

Distorting results?

"That way we want to avoid distortions which would happen if Dresdeners already know the result from the rest of the country," Hendrik Thalheim, a party spokesman, told the newspaper die tageszeitung.

Umstrittenes Wahlplakat
Supporters of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder might end up voting for the Left Party in Dresden.Image: dpa

The Left Party fears that a late election in Dresden could harm their chances to win a direct seat in Dresden. Others believe, however, that a late vote might actually help the party as Social Democrats might tactically support the Left Party's candidate to prevent an extra seat for the Christian Democrats, whose candidate is leading in the polls.

The Africa comparison

While local candidates for other parties also complained about the postponed election, officials at the national level said they didn't see this as a problem.

"Maybe it's possible in Africa to hold back election results for a couple of weeks, but you cannot do that in Germany," Dirk Niebel, the FDP's general secretary, said on the morning show of Germany's public broadcasters.

Other legal experts also said that there was nothing illegal about a late vote in Dresden.

"There's no law that forbids this," Gottfried Mahrenholz, a former constitutional court judge, told German public radio, Deutschlandfunk. Late votes already took place in 1961 and 1965 after candidates died shortly before the election.

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