GERMANY: CONSTITUTIONAL PROBLEMS


The Weimar constitution, although one of the most democratic documents ever to be written, is often criticized for its faults and the apparent instability it caused in Germany. Implemented in a country that had no great desire to become a democracy, it caused the collapse of the republic and the rise of a totalitarian government. Some weaknesses inherent in the Weimar constitution are the extreme powers of the president and the voting system of proportional representation.

Article 48:
In Germany the president was elected for a term of 7 years, and under Article 48 he held emergency powers for when the country was considered endangered and threatened. These powers enabled him to suspend the civil liberties of the German people present in articles 114-118, 123, 124 & 153 and to intervene in the event that public security is seriously disturbed. The decision of when an ‘emergency’ occurs was decided by the president only, which resulted in a constant misuse of his authority, often to safeguard the government from attacks by smaller parties.

Proportional Representation:
This voting system allocated seats in the Reichstag based solely on the percentage of votes a party received. This resulted in 28 parties being formed in Germany under the republic. This meant that no party was strong enough to gain a majority, thus no laws were able to be passed and approved. It also enabled extremist parties to attack the government easily which made it very unstable.

You should have some specific examples - number of seats / % held by parties, exact number of coalition govts etc.

Civil Liberties:
Civil liberties were guaranteed under the government, such as the right to free speech, every German citizen had equality before the law and all men and women over the age of 20 were given the vote. These freedoms gave rise the the Weimar Constitution as being the 'most democratic document of all time'. However, these were able to be suspended by the president during 'an emergency'.

Lack of democratic tradition:
Faithful to monarchy / Kaiser
Successful democracies rely heavily on 'convention' and 'goodwill' as well as the written aspects of their constitution: eg the Australian Constitution does not mention anywhere 'Prime Minister' but rather 'Governor-General in Council' or 'Governor-General', yet convention dictates that the Governor-General act according to the Prime Minister's instructions. GG is also the commander in chief of armed forces etc. However, there is no 'Article 48' whereby the Constitution may be suspended.

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Article 48 was part of the German constitution from 1919 that gave the German President the power to rule by presidential decree in self- declared ‘times of emergency’. It was often taken advantage of.

The Weimar Constitution established a voting system of proportional representation. There were two legislative bodies during the time, the Reichsrat and the Reichstag. The transfer from votes to seats was at a national level, and women had the right to vote making Weimar one of the most democratic constitutions at the time. 28 parties were formed, which made it difficult to establish a majority in the Reichstag. The governments in the Weimar Republic were often weak coalitions, all of which had different ideas of how the country should be governed. This led to difficulties when passing laws. However, these small parties didn’t have much political power. They relied on larger parties, who in turn relied on the smaller parties to stay in power. However, many people had faith in the government as ultimately the citizens chose who ran their country. The people of Germany had democratic power, but this resulted in frequent changes in the Weimar Government, leading to political chaos which often challenged the survival of the democracy.

The frequent changes of government showed that the proportional representation system didn’t work, and while Article 48 could potentially have been a good concept, it was abused too frequently. These two constitutional aspects allowed Hitler to come into power and disband the constitution entirely ultimately resulting in the end of the Weimar Republic.



LINKS


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