Turmoil at the Top

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Sat 5th Jun, 2010

MUNICH. Germany's ruling conservative-liberal coalition provided fresh evidence of serious internal strife with yesterday's choice of Christian Wulff, Minister President of Lower Saxony, as its candidate for the post of German president in the parliamentary election to be held June 30. Wulff's nomination fueled speculation in the German media about Chancellor Angela Merkel's hold on power within her own party and criticism of her leadership style.

The coaltion's nod to the party loyalist Wulff over Merkel's left-leaning favorite, Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, came as yet another surprise to German voters bewildered late last month by the resignation "for personal reasons" of the conservative minister president of Hesse, Roland Koch, and soon after shocked by the sudden departure of the country's popular president, Horst Köhler, on June 1. Köhler cited widespread criticism of his view that German troops abroad defend German economic interests as his reason for leaving, but many suspect the former International Monetary Fund director quit due to the government's financial policies.

The opposition socialist and green parties nominated the widely respected Protestant pastor and human rights activist, Joachim Gauck, as their candidate for president. Gauck, 70, was born in Rostock and became a founder of the "New Forum" reformist movement in the GDR. He is not a member of any political party. Gauck served for 10 years as Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, an agency founded to investigate crimes committed by state organs in the GDR. Not surprisingly, the political heirs of the SED (the ruling party of the former GDR), now represented in the German Bundestag by the "Left" party, oppose Gauck's nomination.

The German president is chosen on the basis of proportional representation by the Federal Convention, a body convened solely for this purpose consisting of Bundestag members as well as an equal number of members elected by state parliaments. The post has long been viewed as largely ceremonial, but in recent years has attained some political credibility along with increased moral authority. Based on the conservative-liberal coalition's voting majority and barring any further surprises, Wulff, who will be 51 on election day, is due to become the nation's next -- and youngest --  president on June 30.

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