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German Leader Sets Up No-Confidence Vote

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German Leader Sets Up No-Confidence Vote

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German Leader Sets Up No-Confidence Vote

German Leader Sets Up No-Confidence Vote

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German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has arranged to lose a vote of confidence in the German parliament. The maneuver offers a chance to dissolve the country's parliament and call the early elections in September that Schroeder has urged.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Germany is one step closer to a change of government. Today Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder lost a confidence vote in the lower house of parliament. That opens the door for national elections this fall, a year ahead of schedule. As NPR's Emily Harris reports from Berlin, today's vote was exactly what Schroeder wanted.

EMILY HARRIS reporting:

The president of Germany's lower house of parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, announced the results of the no-confidence vote.

Mr. WOLFGANG THIERSE (President, Bundestag): (German spoken)

HARRIS: Although Schroeder's coalition of the Social Democratic and the Green parties hold a three-seat majority in parliament, only a quarter of the members said they were confident the chancellor could continue to lead. Half voted no, and a quarter abstained. The vote came after Schroeder told parliament he wanted national elections a year ahead of schedule to get a fresh mandate for economic reforms. Those reforms are deeply unpopular, but Schroeder defended them.

Chancellor GERHARD SCHROEDER (Germany): (Through Translator) These reforms are necessary to preserve the social state for the future, to prepare our economy for globalization and our aging population. They had to be pushed through against massive opposition by interest groups.

(Soundbite of applause)

HARRIS: Schroeder accused the opposition Christian Democrats, the party that now leads in most polls, of playing on voter fears of budget cuts and change. When Christian Democratic leader Angela Merkel addressed parliament, the tone went further into campaign mode.

Ms. ANGELA MERKEL (Christian Democratic Party Leader): (Through Translator) The chancellor will not argue that unemployment numbers of nearly five million people are exactly the opposite of what they offered us. The idea was to reduce unemployment by 50 percent. Instead, we have one and a half million fewer jobs in this country. That's the reality.

(Soundbite of applause)

HARRIS: It's now likely that elections will be held in September, although it's not a fully done deal. The German president now has three weeks to decide whether to accept today's vote as truly one of no confidence, dissolve parliament and call early elections, or overrule parliament and keep the Social Democrats in power until scheduled elections next year. Germany's constitution has this check built in to avoid the frequent changes of government that helped put Adolf Hitler in power in the 1930s. But some politicians and constitutional experts accuse Schroeder of bending the constitution for political gain.

Professor ULRICH BATTIS(ph): It is not in the original spirit of the constitution. It is not.

HARRIS: Nonetheless, law Professor Ulrich Battis expects elections to go ahead in September as Chancellor Schroeder wants.

Prof. BATTIS: The president will have his own decision, but he can only say no if he is convinced that it is really abuse of the constitution. And I think he will not do.

HARRIS: If elections do go forward, Schroeder is expected to be voted out of office. Polls show his popularity has fallen, especially since his party lost a crucial state election in May in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state. In his speech to parliament, Schroeder publicly blamed splits within his party for losing that and other local elections. He said he would campaign now with all his energy and strength. Many people in Germany are wondering why he doesn't just resign. Emily Harris, NPR News, Berlin.

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