The divides in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition over
issues such as austerity budgets and nuclear energy were exposed in
a drawn-out election for the largely ceremonial office of president.
Germany's election Wednesday of Christian Wulff, the youngest
president in its history, and a backer of Chancellor Angela Merkel,
should have been a formality given Ms. Merkel's comfortable majority
in parliament. Instead it turned into a big slap in the face at a
time when her popularity is at all-time low.
Triggered by the unexpected resignation of Horst Kohler, the
election by a special parliamentary commission of the young
conservative had to go into a rare third round of voting. The
election is the most blatant manifestation of the political turmoil
within Merkel's coalition and comes as a debt-ridden Europe searches
for leadership from its largest economy.
"The vote shows that this coalition has huge problems," says
Heinrich Oberreuter, a political analyst at Passau University. "It
could be a wake up call for her to design strategies to regain
people's trust. This is vital."
Annette Schavan, education minister for Merkel's Christian
Democratic Union, told public radio: "We would have wished for a
clearer result on the day, but now it is about looking forward." And
she also mad a plea for unity: "Playing as a team is the best way to
Since Merkel was reelected last year, rifts have paralyzed her
center-right coalition. Issues ranging from lowering taxes to
getting out of nuclear energy to reforming health care - not to
mention how much of an austerity package the country can stomach -
have been left unresolved. Her decision to back a eurozone rescue
package for embattled Greece was unpopular in a country that has had
to shoulder the cost of German reunification.
Merkel paid a heavy political price for that decision, losing key
regional elections in North Rhine Westphalia. The resignation of one
of her key allies, the conservative premier of Hessen, Roland Koch,
followed by that of Horst Kohler, who resigned after controversial
comments made on a trip to Afghanistan, heightened the sense of a
"In the context of this massive crisis, the elections turned into
a vote of confidence for Merkel," says Mr. Oberreuter. Support for
Merkel's Christian Democrats and neo-liberals have fallen to 36
percent, according to a poll taken Tuesday.
German presidents are considered moral rather than political
authorities, giving the country direction with their speeches and
presence, especially in times of crisis. …