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Germany - Presidential Election

Presidential Election in Germany,
A round up one week before the election

Presidential Election in Germany,
A round up one week before the election

18/05/2009 - D-7

The German Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) that meets in the Reichstag will elect the next German President on 23rd May next, the traditional presidential election day in Germany since 1979. This assembly that comprises the 612 members of the Bundestag, the lower chamber in Parliament, and an equal number of representatives from the country's 16 Länder (who are not necessarily MPs in the regional parliaments), totals 1,224 members. The election takes place via secret ballot according to an absolute majority in two initial rounds. If no candidate achieves this majority (ie 613 minimum votes) a third round takes place in which the person winning the most votes is elected.

3 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), the Christian-Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) and Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) candidate;
- Gesine Schwan, 66 years old, president of the University of Viadrina in Frankfurt-on-the Oder, former Political Science professor at the Free University in Berlin. Supported by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens, she already ran with the same parties in the last presidential election on 23rd May 2004;
- Peter Sodann, 73 years old, actor, candidate for the Left Party (L).

German tradition has it that there is no electoral campaign for the election of the President of the Republic, since the latter is supposed to rise above all political divides. However outgoing Head of State Horst Köhler recently launched into public debate vilifying bankers and more generally the dysfunctions of the capitalist system.
In an interview given to the daily Bild on 2nd May Horst Köhler said he regretted that bankers had remained silent during the crisis. He blamed the lack of transparency and supervision within the financial system. He condemned bankers, who have sometimes been personally affected by the crisis, for having received millions of euros; he stressed the contrast between them and the employees: "The average salary for example of a cash-desk attendant in a supermarket suffers greatly if there is the slightest error," he indicated.
"Banks have turned the financial markets into a monster that now has to be tamed. This capitalist casino system without law nor idea of size and values has finally collapsed," concluded the President of the Republic who however said that the international economic crisis may lead to "the construction of a better globalization" in the end.

Horst Köhler's words put his main adversary Gesine Schwan in a difficult position. Embarrassed by the extremely leftwing approach of the outgoing Head of State the Social Democratic candidate was forced to exaggerate to remain in the debate. After having said that the "present economic system can only lead to such economic crises," she also declared on several occasions that "the population's anger might grow rapidly" and warned the government against rising discontent that may lead to a climate propitious for social explosion. Gesine Schwan has been criticised by some members of her party because of what she has said. "Our economy is in trouble but we are far from a popular uprising" said Dieter Wiefelpuetz (SPD). "What we really do not have to do is to talk of panic," said Horst Köhler during an interview that he gave on radio RBB. Finally Angela Merkel (CDU) said that she did not care for these comments: "it is irresponsible to encourage panic and fear and to forecast things that do not match reality," indicated the Chancellor. "I think that the Germans are sufficiently mature politically for us to speak to them of the economic crisis openly," said Gesine Schwan justifying herself.

On 23rd May next Horst Köhler is due to win the 604 votes from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) at the German Federal Assembly. He is also due to win the ten votes from the Free Voters (FW), a party that was created recently rallying the disappointed members of the Christian Social Party (CSU) – which called on its members to support the outgoing President of the Republic. However Gabriele Pauli, leading candidate for the Free Voters in the European Elections on 7th June next has expressed her sympathy for Gesine Schwan on several occasions and has asked the 10 members representing her party in the Federal Assembly to be able to choose the candidate for whom they wish to vote on 23rd May freely – a request rejected by the party's president Hubert Aiwanger. Although Horst Köhler is confident of his ability to win the 613 votes necessary for his re-election on 23rd May next Gesine Schwan says that her chances are real.
Since the vote will take place by secret ballot and mathematical logic is never respected perfectly the suspense is complete but we shall have to wait until 23rd May to discover the name of the next President.
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
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