On Wednesday, June 30th, the German Federal Assembly is going to elect a new President. The election comes after the previous President, Horst Koehler, unexpectedly resigned in late May. President Koehler was very popular among German citizens, but had received growing criticism from the reigning conservative government for his remarks about the involvement of the German armed forces in Afghanistan and the status and prestige of politicians. In a climate of unjustified criticism and plain backstabbing he did what he felt was the only thing he could do, resign. That left everyone stunned (including Chancellor Merkel) and presidential candidates had to be found, as according to Art. 54 (4) the Basic Law (commonly referred to as the German Constitution) the new President has to be elected within 30 days after the President leaves office.
The three candidates on the slate are Christian Wulff, Joachim Gauck and Luc Jochimsen. Merkel's governing coalition presented Christian Wulff who is currently minister president of the state of Lower Saxony, as its candidate. Wulff is one of the rather plain and unimpressive career politicians who nevertheless managed to get ahead in party politics (maybe because he is so unimpressive). That he was nominated by the CDU, one of the governing parties, is seen as a strategic move by Chancellor Merkel as she is well aware, that Wulff not only disagrees with her in many areas but more importantly will do anything to discredit her. If he gets elected however he will be “out of the way” and can’t cause further trouble.
His main opponent is Joachim Gauck, a pastor from the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), who was once the first Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, and is widely favored by the public as well as the opposition. To nominate Gauck was a surprising move by the Socialdemocratic Party as well as the Greens. While he is a well known human rights activist, he described himself as a “liberal conservative” and would have wanted to be the candidate of the CDU.
The third candidate is Luc Jochimsen. Before her retirement in 2002 she was an accomplished journalist and documentary director. Since then she became an outspoken proponent of the GDR and declared that it was not “a state of injustice”. Jochimsen never lived in the GDR and why she believes she can voice such an opinion is a miracle (not only to me).
The German people have no say in Wednesday's vote; the federal president will be elected by a federal assembly, which includes 1,244 lawmakers. Merkel's governing coalition has a slim majority in the convention and usually the members are expected to vote with the party that selected them for participation, but a number of high ranking personalities suggested that no one should be “forced” to vote according to party lines. It is very likely though, that everyone will vote as they are told and Wulff will be elected in the first round.