Leading article: A contested President

Share
Related Topics

The election of a German President is usually little more than formality. Not this time. The victor was expected to be Christian Wulff, premier of Lower Saxony and self-styled "quiet moderniser" of the centre-right CDU. But yesterday's electoral college ballot was a long way from being business as usual in German politics. Yet, the whole contest was out of the ordinary and weakens the authority of Chancellor Merkel personally, and that of her CDU-FDP coalition.

That Germany needed to elect a new President was unusual in itself. The low-key Horst Köhler, a former managing director of the IMF, was only a year into his second term. But he announced his resignation on 31 May, after saying that the quest for national resources had drawn Germany into foreign wars. Although the presence of German forces in Afghanistan is not popular domestically and the remark could have been construed as a political statement of the kind German presidents are not supposed to make, there was little public outcry and Mr Köhler could probably have stayed on. He chose not to, and an election was called.

The next unusual aspect was that the Opposition SPD chose not to nominate one of their own, joining with the Greens to propose the non-party Joachim Gauck, a leading civil rights campaigner in the former East Germany and director of the Stasi archives. By comparison with Mr Gauck, Ms Merkel's nominee was made to look a lightweight CDU apparatchik. In the latter stages, Mr Gauck's campaign took off to the point where the public started asking why German presidents are elected by an electoral college rather than directly, by universal suffrage.

The third unusual aspect was that the voting went to a second, then a third, ballot, even though the party weighting in the electoral college should have guaranteed Mr Wulff the necessary absolute majority first time round. Clearly, in a direct election, Mr Gauck would have won easily. For many Germans, Mr Wulff, if elected, now risks appearing second-best.

It would be an exaggeration to conclude that Ms Merkel's coalition is now doomed. Mr Gauck insisted that his candidacy should not be seen as a challenge to his fellow former East German. But it is indisputable that, less than a year after her party was re-elected to govern with the coalition partner of her choice, Ms Merkel commands far less authority than she did at the end of her first term – just when the eurozone crisis means she needs that authority most.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions