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New Federal President in Germany to be elected

German guy

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On June 30th, there will be elections for a new Federal President in Germany.

This doesn't have much effect on the government, because the true power lies with the head of government, the Federal Chancellor and not the President. The President's role is mostly a representative one, much like that of the Queen or King in parliamentary monarchies -- he inaugurates the Chancellor and his government, is supposed to hold nice, inspiring speeches above party bickering and represent the state at formal occassions.

Also, the Federal President is not elected by the people, but by the Federal Assembly: It's a body that consists of all members of parliament and an equal number of representants of the regional state parliaments. Currently, the governing coalition of center-right CDU/CSU and libertarian FDP have a majority in that Assembly.

This early new election has become necessary after incumbent President Horst Köhler (CDU), in office since 2004 and re-elected in 2009, resigned early this month.


Former President Horst Köhler (center-right CDU)

Köhler had been under harsh criticism after an interview prone to misunderstaning where he suggested Germany is defending material and trade interests in its military missions abroad. According to Köhler, this criticism was "missing respect for the office", so he resigned -- although even commentators sympathetic to Köhler have troubles understanding his decision and assume there are other reasons.

But this election of a new Federal President on June 30th has effects on the government and Chancellor Merkel's center-right CDU/CSU-FDP coalition after all: Despite a 21 seat majority for Merkel's coalition, it's not sure if all of their members will vote for Merkel's nominee -- the eletction is anonymous, so some CDU/CSU or FDP members of the assembly may defect. If that happens and Merkel's candidate, former Prime Minister of the state of Lower Saxony, Christian Wulff (CDU), does not win, this would be considered another major blow to Merkel's struggling and unpopular coalition and especially her authority.

The opposition parties of center-left SPD and environmentalist Green Party have landed a coup by nominating a very popular and prominent candidate who enjoys great respect even among many conservatives and libertarians:


Joachim Gauck (not member of a party), opposition candidate for President

Opposition nominee Joachim Gauck, protestant east German pastor, was an important civil rights activist in the protests of 1989/90 that toppled communist dictatorship. After 1990, he became director of the institute where the files of the reckless former communist secret service and police, Stasi, were stored and made public. Gauck, who is not member of a political party, thus enjoys great respect as a moral authority in favor of the values of freedom and democracy.

His nomination by the center-left opposition was a very smart tactic move to exert pressure on Merkel and her center-right government, because the candidate Merkel had nominated just one day before, is rather low profile:


Christian Wulff (CDU), coalition candidate for President

Christian Wulff (CDU), Prime Minister of Lower Saxony since 2003, is rather low profile in comparison: He has a "nice guy next door"-image and is generally respected even among the opposition because of his refusal to polarize. But compared to Gauck, he is a no-name.

Several libertarian FDP members have announced already they will defect from the party line and vote for Gauck instead of Wulff. Will there be enough to make Gauck President, despite a 21 seat majority for CDU/CSU and FDP?

Most likely not, and Merkel's favorite Wulff will get a majority. But if too many coalition voters defect, that may be considered another failure for Merkel, whose center-right government is currently struggling and as unpopular as never before.

What do you think?
 

The_Penguin

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Is this more of a test of CDU's ability to hold a coalition together? As I recall, the Federal President is pretty much a figure head.
 

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Is this more of a test of CDU's ability to hold a coalition together? As I recall, the Federal President is pretty much a figure head.
Yes, that's right. The office of Federal President is not really decisive, much like that of the Queen in Britain. But the media will watch closely if Merkel manages to get her candidate through. She has been under heavy criticism for an alleged lack of leadership and authority within her coalition, and a failure on her side to gain loyalty within her own coalition parties would be a severe blow to her authority. She would look like a "lame duck".
 

The_Penguin

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Yes, that's right. The office of Federal President is not really decisive, much like that of the Queen in Britain. But the media will watch closely if Merkel manages to get her candidate through. She has been under heavy criticism for an alleged lack of leadership and authority within her coalition, and a failure on her side to gain loyalty within her own coalition parties would be a severe blow to her authority. She would look like a "lame duck".
So Shroeder 2.0? It's not terribly surprising. At the beginning of her term, she had a few ideas of how to change the country. Now, after all this time, she needs to come up with something in order to stay relevant and look like she's still in charge. I'd admit that this is not the easiest task for an executive...
 

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So Shroeder 2.0? It's not terribly surprising. At the beginning of her term, she had a few ideas of how to change the country. Now, after all this time, she needs to come up with something in order to stay relevant and look like she's still in charge. I'd admit that this is not the easiest task for an executive...
That's right, Merkel's center-right coalition of conservative CDU/CSU and libertarian FDP is currently as unpopular as Schröder's government was at the end. According to polls, 78% are do not approve of her government, and only ca. 35% to 38% would still vote for her coalition, compared to 55% for the opposition.

The major reason for that, though, is probably the constant in-fighting within Merkel's coalition over the past months, which gives the impression the coalition partners are more busy picking on each other, than on the opposition. Her coalition appears not to be united at all. The opposition didn't even need to attack the government, because they did it all by themselves. Also, Merkel had to agree on the unpopular bailouts for Greece and the euro currency, and on top of that even flip-flopped a lot and was considered to lack leadership.
 

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Candidate for President Christian Wulff (CDU), supported by Chancellor Merkel's coalition of center-right Christian Democrats and libertarian Free Democrats, has been elected new German Federal President yesterday.

He didn't win in the first run of the election, though: Neither in the first, nor the second turn, Christian Wulff received a majority of votes in the Federal Assembly (623 out of 1244 votes), although Merkel's coalition had a comfortable 644 seat majority. According to comments, that adds to the impression Merkel is lacking leadership within her party and coalition -- in the first turn, 44 fellow coalition members refused support for Merkel's candidate, in the 2nd turn, it were still 29 and even in the final turn, when Wulff was elected eventually, still 19 CDU/FDP voters did not vote for their coalition's candidate.

But eventually, Merkel got her candidate through. If defectors from her coalition had brought the opposition candidate into office, it might have likely been the end of her chancellorship. But Merkel got off lightly. It's not the glorious "restart" for her heavily criticized coalition, though, this election was supposed to be.


Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the new President Christian Wulff (CDU)
 
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