Q&A: Schroeder's vote test
BERLIN, Germany (CNN) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder won a vote of confidence in the German parliament on Friday. He called the vote in an attempt to stamp out dissent over his offer to send German troops to join the war on terror. CNN's Berlin Bureau Chief Bettina Luscher explains.
Q: What brought about Friday's vote?
A: Schroeder offered to commit 3,900 troops, including 100 elite soldiers, to the war in Afghanistan. He also offered help in combating nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, medical services, air transport and naval forces to protect shipping lanes.
While there is support among the public and politicians for the war against terrorism, Schroeder faced dissenters among his own coalition, with both members of his own Socialist Democratic Party and the junior coalition partner, the Greens, threatening to vote against the deployment.
Schroeder called the vote because he wanted to make sure that some of the dissenters within his own coalition government would rally behind him for this crucial -- he even called it historic -- decision.
He combined the decision to offer troops to the war against terror with the confidence vote, effectively calling the bluff of some of the Green voters. Some of the Green dissenters -- four of them -- voted against the chancellor, but it was a calcultated decision -- they knew they could voice their dissent without risking the government.
Q: Was the result expected?
A: Most political analysts predicted the vote would be close. There are 666 lawmakers in parliament, so he needed 334 to win. His coalition accounts for 341, so if more than seven had voted against him he would have lost. In the event, he got 336 votes, with 326 votes against him.
Q. What does the result mean for the Greens?
A. It doesn't really spell good news for them. The dissent within the ranks will just go on, political observers believe, and next week there is a party convention.
There is some strong criticism at the grass roots level of the party for the war in Afghanistan. But there are also some interesting opinion polls in which show 92 percent of Green voters say their party should stay in the government, and that is what many of the Green lawmakers here listened to.
Q: What would have happened if Schroeder had lost the vote of confidence?
A: The most likely scenario was that he would have gone to the president and asked him to dissolve parliament. The president would then have called new elections, probably to take place in January. One other option, which was unlikely, was that Schroeder could have switched coalition partners.
Q: Was there any precedent for the vote?
A: Such a vote of confidence had only happened three times before in post-war Germany. But on those previous occasions the vote was purely over confidence in the government. What Schroeder did for the first time wass directly link an issue -- in this case the deployment of troops -- with a confidence vote.
Q: Why did Schroeder make the issue of troop deployment so vital to his government?
A: Schroeder and his Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer see German troop involvement as an important political signal. Schroeder wants to repay U.S. and other Western aid and support to Germany over the past 50 years. He believes it is now time for Germans to repay the solidarity the U.S. had given the country since WWII and throughout the Cold War.
Q: What is the public opinion over the issue of troop involvement?
A: The majority of the public appears to support the battle against terrorism, but there has been a growing debate in recent days about how well it is going. Germany is more cautious than other countries about sending troops into battle because it has not done it for so long. For over 50 years it has kept away from war.
Q. What happens now?
A. The German cabinet will decide if and when to actually deploy the German troops. The Schroeder government has always made clear that the 3,900 troops are on standby, and the vote doesn't mean they are going to be immediately deployed.
There will be new elections in September, and Gerhard Schroeder is looking very strong. He got good reviews for his performance after the September 11 terror attacks, when he vowed unlimited solidarity with the United States.
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