The European Elections Monitor

Open panel Open panel
The European Elections Monitor
Germany - Presidential Election

Presidential Election in Germany,
23rd May 2009

Presidential Election in Germany,
23rd May 2009

27/04/2009 - Analysis

On 23rd May, the day of the Presidential election since 1979, the German Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) will meet to elect the next President of the German Federal Republic (Präsident der Bundesrepublik Deutschland). This Assembly comprises 1,224 members; it is made up of 612 members of the Bundestag, the lower Chamber in Parliament and an equal number of representatives from the 16 Länder who are not necessarily representatives within the regional parliaments. The election takes the shape of a secret, absolute majority ballot in two rounds. If no candidate achieves this majority (i.e. 613 votes minimum), the person who manages to rally the greatest number of votes to his name is elected in a third round.

Although the presidential office in Germany is mainly honorary the Head of State is however a moral authority and his role extends beyond the prerogatives assigned to him by the Fundamental Law. Elected for five years the German president represents the country in the international arena. He concludes the treaties with foreign States, accredits and receives the diplomatic representatives. He is the guardian of the law and the Fundamental Law. He appoints and dismisses the judges, the federal civil servants, officers and NCOs. Finally he can also dissolve the Bundestag in two specific instances: when the Bundestag does not succeed in electing a Chancellor (i.e. if no candidate succeeds in rallying a majority of votes after three days, article 63 of the Fundamental Law) or when a motion of confidence proposed by the Chancellor does not gain the approval of the majority of Bundestag members (article 68). General elections then have to be convened in the 60 days following dissolution (article 39 of the Fundamental Law). Three dissolutions have taken place in the past: on 23rd September 1972, on 6th January 1983 and 21st July 2005, by present Head of State Horst Köhler. On 1st July 2005, 296 of the 595 MPs present voted against the motion of confidence delivered by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, 148 abstained and 151 expressed their confidence. General elections followed on 18th September.

All candidates running for the presidential function have to be at least forty years old and can only be re-elected once. According to the Fundamental Law, the President must not belong either to the government nor any legislative organisation in the Federation (Bund) or in one of the 16 Länder. He can undertake no other paid function, nor can he have any industrial or commercial profession, nor any other type of job – and he cannot be a member of a board or a board of managers of a company that is a profit making enterprise. If the President of the Republic cannot be present or if he leaves his office before time his powers are undertaken by the Bundesrat, the Upper Chamber in Parliament.

4 candidates are running:
- Horst Köhler, 66 years old, outgoing Head of State, former Chair of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), former director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is the Christian Democratic Union candidate (CDU/CSU) and the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) ;
- Gesine Schwan, 66 years old, president of the University of Europe Viadrina of Frankfurt-am-Oder, former Political Science Professor at the Free University of Berlin. With the support of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens she already ran for the same parties during the previous presidential election on 23rd May 2004;
- Peter Sodann, 73 years old, actor and candidate of the Left Party (Die Linke);
- Frank Rennicke, 45 years old, singer, candidate of the various far-right the People's Union (DVU) and the National Party (NPD).

On 23rd May 2004, Horst Köhler was elected in the first round of the election winning one more vote than the absolute majority. The CDU/CSU and the FDP who supported him theoretically had a 19 vote lead. Since 9 people abstained and two slips were declared nul and void at least seven voters from the parties granted their vote to the Social Democratic Party candidate Gesine Schwan.

Five years on Horst Köhler again has the support of the CDU/CSU and the FDP who comprise 606 members of the German Federal Assembly. He also has the support of the Free Voters (FW), a choice that did not rally unanimity within the recently created party that brings together those who are disappointed by the CSU; it also made a breakthrough during the regional elections in Bavaria on 28th September 2008 by winning 10.2% of the vote and clinching 21 seats in the Munich Parliament.
Gabriele Pauli, who is also the leading candidate on the party's list in the European elections on 7th June next, has said that he likes Gesine Schwan. "I believe that Gesine Schwan would make a good President of the Republic. She has more ideas than Horst Köhler as far as the revival of democracy is concerned"; he asked the 10 members of the Free Voters Party in the Federal Assembly to be able to choose freely the candidate they wished to vote for. This request was rejected by the party. Its president Mr Aiwanger indicated that the party's representatives had to comply with the latter's decision and therefore support Horst Köhler. With the votes of the Free Voters the outgoing President can count on 616 representatives if they all respect their parties' voting advice (the vote is a secret ballot).

On 24th March last Horst Köhler delivered a speech in Berlin, a German tradition dating back to 1997. He warned the CDU/CSU and the FDP against sterile battles in this "super electoral year" 2009 in which Germany will be voting in regional, local, general and European elections. He also said that the path which the government had set off along was the "good" one and recalled the need for "a strong State that establishes rules and checks that they are adhered to". The outgoing President, who as former director of the IMF stands as an authority in economic matters, spoke in favour of a "Bretton Woods II" that would reform the economic and financial system under the guidance of the UN.

Gesine Schwan estimates her chances of being elected at 50% and believes that the election far from being settled remains an open issue. In her opinion the economic crisis is due to "a social fracture" and to the economic system. "In two to three months, the population's anger may grow. Without a ray of hope and any improvement in the situation the atmosphere will become explosive," she declared.

If the presidential election took place by universal suffrage Horst Köhler would win 70% of the Germans' votes according to a poll undertaken mid-April by Infratest. Gesine Schwan would be chosen by 14% of her countrymen and Peter Sodann by 4% of them. Mathematical logic indicates that Horst Köhler will be re-elected as President of the Republic of Germany on 23rd May next. Political logic remains however.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
Other stages