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German parties agree on new president
German government and opposition agree on backing Joachim Gauck for post, after incumbent quit amidst scandal.
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2012 21:55
Gauck, who also ran for president two years ago, is now being backed by all major parties [Reuters]

Germany's government and two main opposition parties have agreed to jointly nominate a former East German human rights activist as the country's next president, the German chancellor has said.

Joachim Gauck's nomination will be backed by both the centre-right coalition government and the centre-left opposition, after he was initially nominated by the opposition Social Democrats and Greens, Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed on Sunday.

Christian Wulff, 52, quit as President on Friday, after two months of allegations that he had received favours, such as a loan on favourable terms and hotel stays, from friends when he was governor of the state of Lower Saxony.

Wulff, elected less than two years ago, was Merkel's candidate, and had beaten Gauck, 72, in a messy election.

When Wulff resigned, Merkel immediately said she would work with the Social Democrats and Greens to find a consensus candidate to succeed him.

The German head of state holds a largely ceremonial position. The incumbent has typically used his position to assert moral authority and to act as a figure above party politics.

The new president will be elected by a special assembly next month, but with cross-party backing, the process should be a formality.

Until then, Horst Seehofer, the speaker of parliament's upper house and governor of Bavaria, has taken over presidential duties on an interim basis.

Role in East Germany 

Merkel confirmed her support for Gauck at a press conference in the Chancellery with leaders of other major German parties on Sunday. The announcement has paved the way for Gauck, a protestant pastor and former rights activist, to be elected.

"Let's not forget that we have churchmen like Gauck to thank for the success of East Germany's peaceful revolution," said Merkel, herself the daughter of a protestant pastor who grew up in the failed German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Gauck was one of a number of pastors who played an active role in bringing down the East German regime, setting the stage for reunification in 1990.

He ran the state-run archives on the Stasi after the Berlin Wall fell, earning recognition for exposing the crimes of the dreaded East German secret police.

The opposition SPD and Greens, who nominated him two years ago, argue that he is the ideal person to restore credibility to the office after the premature departure of Wulff and his predecessor Horst Koehler, the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

At the news conference on Sunday, Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD chief, criticised Merkel for not backing Gauck two years ago.

"We Social Democrats put forward Joachim Gauck at the last Federal Assembly and I am sure that since then, to put it cautiously, everyone regrets the fact Joachim Gauck was not elected," Gabriel said.

The Federal Assembly, a 1,244-seat body comprised of national and state representatives, must vote in a new president by March 18.

Source:
Agencies
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