Germany gets new President

German Newly elected President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZ

Former German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has been elected on Sunday as the nation’s 12th president since World War II.

The 61-year-old Steinmeier was backed in his bid for the largely ceremonial post of president by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition.

Voting took place in a secret ballot among the 1,260-member Federal Convention, comprising lawmakers and leading community figures.

Mr. Steinmeier will replace Joachim Gauck, a 77-year-old former East German pastor and human rights activist, who steps down next month as head of state at the end of his five-year term.

Regularly voted in opinion polls as the nation’s most popular politician, Mr. Steinmeier faced four other candidates in the election for the post.

Mr. Steinmeier was elected to become the nation’s president by an overwhelming majority of a special constitutional assembly, despite the vote falling short of what had been expected.

He secured 931 votes of the 1,239 votes cast in a secret ballot for the largely ceremonial post of president at a meeting of the Federal Convention.

However, the vote for Mr. Steinmeier was lower than what had been expected, with 100 convention members abstaining in the vote.

This points to possible frustration with the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel within the ranks of her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian-based allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

The CDU-CSU and the junior member of the Merkel-led coalition, Steinmeier’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), had a combined convention vote of 923 national and state lawmakers in the assembly, which has a total of 1,260 members.

Members of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the environmentalist Greens were also expected to support Steinmeier, bringing the expected vote for the former foreign minister to over 1,000.

A candidate needed to secure 631 convention votes to win.

“We live in turbulent times; people are uncertain,” Mr. Steinmeier said in his acceptance speech.

But he said that Germans should take a sense of pride from their nation having become “an anchor of hope for many in the world.”

Ms. Merkel said Mr. Steinmeier would be an excellent president.

“He is a man with the common touch,” she said.

However, she said he was coming to office during difficult times.

Mr. Steinmeier will next month replace Joachim Gauck, a 77-year-old former East German pastor and human rights activist, who steps down next month as head of state at the end of his five-year term.

First convened in 1949, the convention draws its members from the world of German entertainment, sport and culture.

This year it included the trainer of the nation’s football team, Joachim Loew, drag queen Olivia Jones and Semiya Simsek Demirtas, whose father was the first victim of an alleged neo-Nazi terrorist group, the National Socialist.


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