updated 8/26/2005 2:17:17 AM ET 2005-08-26T06:17:17

Germany’s highest court ruled Thursday that federal elections can go ahead as planned Sept. 18, dismissing complaints against the early vote from two lawmakers.

The Federal Constitutional Court’s decision removed the final obstacle to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s drive to hold elections a year ahead of schedule. Campaigning is already in full swing.

Judge Winfried Hassemer said the court voted 7-1 to allow the elections to proceed.

With less than four weeks to go, Schroeder’s party lags behind challenger Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

Schroeder launched the push for early elections in May after his Social Democrats suffered a stinging defeat in a key state election. He said he needed a new mandate for a reform program that has so far failed to revive Germany’s economy, Europe’s largest.

Deliberate loss
President Horst Koehler set the ballot for Sept. 18 after Schroeder deliberately lost a vote of confidence in the lower house in July.

Under the German constitution, the president can dissolve parliament and set early elections if the government convinces him that it no longer has a stable majority.

Social Democrat lawmaker Jelena Hoffmann and Werner Schulz from Schroeder’s coalition partner, the Greens, argue that Schroeder still has the support of their two parties and the vote of no confidence should not count.

In allowing the early elections to go ahead, Hassemer cited a 1983 ruling by the court that allowed Schroeder’s predecessor, Helmut Kohl, to go ahead with early elections after engineering a similar vote of no confidence.

Schroeder and Kohl used the maneuver because Germany’s post-World War II constitution does not allow parliament simply to dissolve itself.

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