East Germany Table of Contents
East Germany's present Constitution is very different from the one adopted in October 1949 when the state was founded. The first constitution, based largely on an SED draft of September 1946 and intended for a united Germany, originated before the Soviet Union had decided to establish a socialist republic in its zone of occupation. The constitution both resembled and differed from Western parliamentary-democratic systems in various respects. With regard to state organization, the 1949 constitution resembled, at least superficially, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). As in other parliamentary-democratic systems, provision was also made for two legislative assemblies, the States Chamber (Länderkammer) and the People's Chamber (Volkskammer), and the election of a president (Ministerpresident) by the party with the largest mandate in the People's Chamber. The president of East Germany, like the president of West Germany, had a very limited vote and was removable by a joint two-thirds majority vote in both houses. Lawmaking was essentially the job of the People's Chamber rather than the States Chamber, but the latter could propose draft laws to the former. The legislative process also exhibited important differences from the West German model; the East German States Chamber, for example, which represented the interests of the individual states, occupied a much weaker position than its West German counterpart. Article 51 stated that the members of the People's Chamber were to be elected in universal, equal, and secret elections based on the relative majority principle. Another important difference concerned the role of political parties in the government. According to Article 92, parties with at least 40 seats in the People's Chamber, which then had a total of 400 members, had the right to representation in the government. This policy was consistent with the SED's Marxist Alliance Policy, which stipulated that in order to achieve its aims, the party of the working class must initially work with and through other parties. It also ensured that if the SED was ever demoted to a minority position, its continued influence in the government would be safeguarded by the provision that any parliamentary party that commanded at least 10 percent of the total number of votes had a guaranteed share in the government. A set of basic human rights, including the right to strike (Article 14) and to emigrate (Article 10) retained features of a liberal Rechtstaat and formally guaranteed that sovereignty would remain vested in the people.
The 1949 constitution was a compromise; it could have served either as a basis for building socialism or as the basis for a democratic all-German republic. Critics have pointed out that the absence of a genuinely independent constitutional judiciary rendered the document virtually meaningless, however. And, in fact, as time progressed, the authorities ignored most of its formal provisions and permitted the emergence of a centralized political order under the control of the SED.
Several important amendments were made at the initiative of the SED in the eighteen years in which the constitution was in force. An amendment of August 1950 eliminated state parliaments and called for the election of parliamentary deputies through the creation of a joint platform and lists organized by the National Front, the umbrella organization of all political parties and mass organizations. A 1952 decision replaced the five states (Länder) with fifteen administrative districts (Bezirke) that were tied more directly to the central government. (The United States, Britain, and France do not recognize East Berlin as an administrative district.) This step created the necessary legal precedent for eliminating the States Chamber, which eventually was dissolved by a constitutional amendment in December 1985. A series of amendments known as the Law Toward the Completion of the Constitution were passed by the People's Chamber in March 1954, when the country was formally granted sovereignty by the Soviet Union. These amendments delineated the features of the country's new sovereignty and a formal military structure, which prepared the ground for the obligatory military service clause of 1955. And finally, upon the death of Wilhelm Pieck, a constitutional amendment of 1960 replaced the office of president with the Council of State, whose chairman became Ulbricht, first secretary of the SED.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents