Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Germany to choose new president

Germany was counting down the hours Wednesday morning to the vote for a new president, with centre-right candidate Christian Wulff still the frontrunner yet with commentators refusing to write off opposition pick Joachim Gauck.

The Federal Assembly, made up of both houses of parliament in Berlin as well as an equal number of representatives from the states – a total of 1244 delegates – is set to hold the first ballot around noon.

The centre-right coalition of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) have a total of 644 delegates, which is 21 more than the absolute majority needed to elect their candidate Wulff, who is currently the premier of Lower Saxony.

However there has been some wavering in their ranks, with at least four members of the FDP vowing openly that they would vote for Gauck, a Protestant pastor and former dissident in communist East Germany, and several more refusing to reveal how they will vote.

The big question is whether there are enough other dissenters in the closet to tip the vote Gauck’s way or at least force a second and third ballot, giving Gauck added momentum.

The vote is widely seen as a crucial test for Chancellor Merkel, who is already weakened by her lukewarm performance and the constant bickering within her coalition since last September’s election. Though the job as head of state is largely ceremonial, the controversies and fierce debate this time around have lended a heavy political significance to the position.

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