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Germany govt to hold polls on September 18


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Published: Saturday, 23 July, 2005, 12:56 PM Doha Time

BERLIN: German President Horst Koehler gave the green light on Thursday for a general election on September 18 which could usher in the country’s first woman leader.

Koehler announced on national television that he had met the request from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to dissolve parliament and hold elections 12 months ahead of schedule.

The president said that he agreed with Schroeder’s assessment that the chancellor no longer enjoyed a stable majority within his coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

Koehler said that there were grounds for an early election because the country faces “immense tasks” including tackling unemployment, cutting the imposing public debt and contending with an ageing population which produced too few children.

“In this serious situation, our country needs a new government that can pursue its goals with continuity and emphasis,” Koehler said. “The well-being of the people is best served with a new election.”

The vast majority of Germans have said they would welcome early elections in the hope a new government will drag the eurozone’s biggest economy out of its lethargy.

However, the decision to proceed with early elections still faces a challenge from two members of parliament from the Greens.

Opinion polls show Schroeder’s conservative challenger Angela Merkel is nearly certain of becoming Germany’s first female chancellor – the latest survey put her Christian Union bloc 17 percentage points ahead of the SPD.

A snap poll by ARD public television released after Koehler’s speech showed that only one person in five believes Schroeder will win re-election.

Schroeder, who came to power in 1998, immediately confirmed he was standing for another term “because the reforms which I have begun, for health policy, for pensions or for the labour market, are right and necessary”.

“Germany is on the right track and more and more people are beginning to recognise that fact,” he said.

The chancellor embarked on his high-risk strategy on July 1 when he deliberately lost a parliamentary vote of confidence with the aim of prompting elections.

Schroeder told parliament ahead of the vote that he wanted new elections to test if the people still backed a set of sometimes painful social welfare reforms.

His party has suffered a string of poor performances in state polls, but Schroeder’s decision was prompted by a crushing defeat in May to the conservative opposition in the country’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, an SPD bastion.

Greens deputy Jelena Hoffmann confirmed on Thursday that she and her party colleague Werner Schulz would challenge a decision to dissolve parliament in the country’s constitutional court because they wanted to serve the full term until autumn 2006.

Merkel has promised if elected to slash Germany’s unemployment figures which topped 5mn this year and inject new life into the economy.

Inevitably compared with Margaret Thatcher, Merkel has said that she has “great respect” for the economic policies of Britain’s first and only female prime minister but that her own programme is likely to be less controversial.

She has unveiled plans to create jobs and raise value-added tax, a form of sales tax common throughout the European Union, to 18% from 16% today.

After Koehler’s announcement, Merkel said: “We don’t have to make do with 5mn unemployed.

“I am asking us to move forward together for a better Germany, in which people can again seize their opportunities again.”

In addition to Merkel’s momentum, Schroeder faces another headache with the creation of a new left-wing alliance known as the Left Party which risks attracting working-class support away from the Social Democrats.

The alliance could also cost the Christian Democrats crucial votes in the former communist east. – AFP


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