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FDP Imposes Opposition Nominee On Chancellor Merkel

To the seeming displeasure of Chancellor Merkel, the next German President will be Joachim Gauck.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 2/21/2012, 6:00 AM

The two top jobs in the Federal Republic of Germany – Chancellor and President -- will now be held by people who grew up in the former East Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to accept the opposition parties' candidate, Pastor Joachim Gauck, whom she had rejected in 2010, when she pushed the candidacy of Christian Wulff instead. Wulff was forced to resign under a cloud, becoming the second Merkel presidential nominee to resign the presidency. Horst Kohler, his predecessor, was also forced to resign.

Gauck was one of the leaders in the peaceful demonstrations that helped bring down the East German communist regime. He was later tapped to read the files of the STASI, the feared East German secret police that poisoned society with its web of informers. Gauck's own father was deported for 5 years to Siberia when he was 11.

Gauck's nomination provoked a coalition crisis between between Merkel's conservatives and their junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP). The FDP has been battered in a series of state elections, and in some did not even cross the electoral threshold for representation in the state legislatures.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), originally opposed Gauck's candidacy, with Die Welt speculating that Merkel did not want to be upstaged by Gauck's strong personality and unpredictability.

The FDP leadership announced its support for Gauck, the candidate of the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. Merkel decided to live with it, because she will need all her capital for the second Greece bailout bill and the presidential vote was a distraction for her.

Perhaps the Chancellor was being a bit Machiavellian. The Christian Democrats have an interest in the Free Democratic Party's viability because they constitute the most eligible coalition partner. In her previous term, Merkel had a grand coalition with the Social Democrats, but that meant near parity in the distribution of portfolios and major policy compromises. It was preferable to let the FDP mouse roar and savor its victory.

Merkel made the best of it, and when presenting  Gauck, together with the opposition parties (excluding the Left Party that is descended from the Communist Party), she lauded Gauck as a  "true teacher of democracy," while emphasizing their common East German background. The two really are friends.  Merkel said that Gauck could provide "important ideas".

The German presidency is a ceremonial one and the German president is expected to be a moral example and preceptor, a task that Gauck's predecessors failed to shoulder.