German leader loses no-confidence vote

Ruling party's struggles lead Schroeder to pave way for early elections

The World

July 02, 2005|By Christian Retzlaff | Christian Retzlaff,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BERLIN - Facing high unemployment and an inability to reform the welfare state, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder deliberately lost a confidence vote in Parliament yesterday, opening the way for early elections that are expected to push his liberal coalition from power.

Schroeder called for the vote after a series of political defeats and widening divisions within his Social Democratic Party over how to reform one of Europe's most generous welfare states. President Horst Koehler is expected to dissolve Parliament in the coming weeks, and new elections are likely by mid-September, a year before Schroeder's term was to expire.

With an 18 percent approval rating, Schroeder's party has been viewed by most Germans as unable to stem high unemployment and enact social and economic programs to improve the nation's global competitiveness. The conservative Christian Democratic Union, led by Angela Merkel, is well-positioned to win in new elections, according to recent polls.

Schroeder acknowledged his party's failures when he addressed the lower house of Parliament moments before the vote: "The reform program, known as Agenda 2010, has led to disputes between the parties and within the parties. My party, I can't deny it, has suffered most from the disputes."

Only 151 of 601 members in the lower house voted for the Social Democratic chancellor. The defeat was orchestrated by Schroeder, who asked his own party members and supporters to cast ballots of no confidence.

This was an indication, according to analysts, that Schroeder believed his party and its allies were not unified enough to weather another year of economic problems while attempting to persuade Germans to accept significant cuts to their social system.

Schroeder's Agenda 2010 reform program, announced two years ago and intended to prepare Germany's welfare system for economic globalization, failed to reduce the country's unemployment rate of almost 12 percent - the highest since the modern republic was formed in 1949. Schroeder's political maneuverability was curtailed further by Merkel's Christian Democrats, who controlled the upper house of Parliament, which blocked many of the chancellor's efforts.

"The urgent problems of our country, the continuation of reforms, the crisis of the European Union, the challenge of globalization and the danger for peace, security and stability do not allow a state of paralysis," Schroeder said in his speech yesterday. "We need clarity."

Germany's Constitution does not allow Parliament to dissolve itself, but, after a lost confidence vote by the lower house, the president may call for early elections. It is not certain whether Koehler will disband Parliament, or if legal challenges would force the Constitutional Court to rule against the balloting.

Merkel, who would be Germany's first female chancellor, supported Schroeder's decision to hold the no-confidence vote but denied that her party had obstructed reform.

Political analysts expect that Koehler will approve the new balloting.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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