German President Horst Koehler has postponed the date to announce his decision on whether Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has the right to take part in the new elections he is seeking. Koehler said he will use most of the 21-day period the constitution gives him to make up his mind, but hasn't said exactly when the announcement will come.
Anticipation grew when Schroeder's office said he would return to Berlin from his home in Hanover on Thursday afternoon. They gave no reason.
Schroeder is expected to be the first person Koehler would notify of his decision, followed by Bundestag President Wolfgang Thierse, according to the AP.
Schroeder deliberately lost a no-confidence vote July 1 by asking his own supporters to abstain. He says he wants new elections because he no longer has the political support in his own ranks to push through controversial changes to Germany's welfare state aimed at getting the sluggish economy going, says Reuters.
Koehler must decide whether Schroeder truly lacks sufficient support. The government coalition of Schroeder's Social Democrats and Greens has a narrow 303-seat majority in the 601-seat Bundestag, or lower house.
Schroeder, whose four-year term runs out in September 2006, is bidding for a fresh mandate for his "Agenda 2010" labor market reforms, which were hailed as the most far-reaching overhaul of Germany's welfare state since World War Two when he unveiled them two years ago.
But Germans have grown fed up with the pain of the welfare cuts, and with the long wait for the hoped-for boost in economic growth and the reduction of unemployment from post-war highs.
Germany's post-war constitution was written in a way that provides no easy route to early polls, as a reaction to the instability that helped bring Adolf Hitler to power. The Weimar Republic of the 1920s and early 1930s had 12 chancellors.
Some media reports have said Koehler is expected to endorse early elections for the good of the country, though some legal experts question the validity of such a move.
Schroeder's SPD has made clear he will remain in office until the end of his term if Koehler declines to dissolve parliament and call early elections.