Germany needs a President

Joachim Gauck, visiting Northrhine-Westphalia in September 2008 (published by Wikimedia Commons under a GNU Free Documentation License)

Joachim Gauck, September 2008 (published by wikimedia.org / GNU Free Documentation License)

Former federal president Richard von Weizsäcker told Germany’s main tabloid this week that the members of the Federal Convention which will elect a new federal president on June 30 should vote in accordance with their conscience, not in line with the politial parties which dispatch them. Weizsäcker is a member of chancellor Angela Merkel‘s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Another widely respected political pensioner, former CDU secretary general and former prime minister of Saxonia, Kurt Biedenkopf, also advocated a free vote earlier this week.

Biedenkopf was right, Weizsäcker said. “The election is free.”

Half of the conventions’ delegates come from the federal parliament, the Bundestag. The other half is dispatched by the federal states.

The elders’ statements come as public opinion apparently favors the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) and the Green Party’s candidate, Joachim Gauck. While the governing coalition’s candidate, Lower Saxony’s prime minister  Christian Wulff, is a career politician, Gauck is a parson and former civil-rights activist from Rostock, northeastern Germany.

Weizsäcker retired from politics in 1994, but has remained a political heavyweight in Germany since. Chances that Gauck may get elected have risen slightly since he declared his candidacy earlier this month. If elected (which is still not too likely to happen), the SPD and the Greens should resist any temptations to interpret such a success as a “victory” of the opposition. After the hapless exit of the previous federal president, Horst Köhler, the SPD had offered Merkel the option of agreeing to a mutually-agreed candidate, which she ignored. The most important reason to vote for Gauck is that he is the better candidate. And the most important reason not to vote for Wulff is that he has already become an instrument of chancellor Merkel, which would do his presidential authority no good.

Köhler had been the CDU’s and FDP’s anti-Schröder candidate in 2004, which turned out to be a heavy burden during Köhler’s years in office. Gauck should be nobody’s instrument. This time, we need a president again.

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“Mr. Gauck seems to be everywhere”, New York Times, June 25, 2010

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