A Commentary by Roland Nelles
On Wednesday, that which Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition had been fearing -- yet never officially allowed as a possibility -- came true.
Her candidate for German president, Christian Wulff, needed three rounds of voting to be elected.
It is a fiasco for her and her government. Twice Wulff stood for election. And twice he failed to capitalize on the comfortable majority enjoyed by Merkel's conservatives and their junior coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, in the Federal Assembly. It is a rebellion that Merkel and her ranks only managed to contain in the last moment. Had they not been successful, Berlin's political scene would have quickly become unrecognizable.
Angela Merkel only narrowly avoided a premature end to her political career. She benefited from the fact that everyone knew the third round was a matter of political life and death for her government. Anyone who voted against Wulff was voting for the end of Merkel's chancellorship. Every delegate, it would seem, thought carefully about what they were doing.
That is what Merkel was banking on, but it was a strategy of last resort. It cannot be hidden that Angela Merkel, on this Wednesday, suffered the biggest debacle of her political career.
Misjudged the Mood
Merkel completely misjudged the mood in the country when she picked career politician Wulff. She made the mistake of being guided purely by self-interest and the interests of her party. Her motto was: first the party, then the nation.
This high-handedness has been punished. Her candidate wasn't even able to impress her own party.
The rebels from the first and second rounds of have done democracy a service. Thanks to their opposition to Wulff, the Federal Assembly can no longer be regarded as a forum for merely serving party political interests. In the future, government and party leaders will be far more careful about whom they nominate for the highest office in the land.
Political Damage for Merkel
The political damage for the chancellor is enormous. Wulff, Merkel and the coalition have been exposed to ridicule. They wanted to send out a message of strength but have demonstrated their own weakness.
Even though Wulff pulled through in the end, the political mantra which holds that any majority is good enough won't help Merkel. The double blows of the first two votes will loom over the government's work in the future.
The coalition parties are already casting blame at each other for the debacle. Who is responsible for the failures of the first two rounds? The atmosphere of distrust will worsen, and doubts about the leadership abilities of Merkel and FDP leader Guido Westerwelle will continue to increase dramatically.
An Important Lesson
Few would be surprised if Merkel's coalition government were to end soon. Maybe not this year, but perhaps next year with a number of state elections looming.
For Wulff, it would be the worst imaginable start for a presidency -- both on a political and human scale. You almost have to feel sorry for the man.
He is, as it were, the third choice. He knows it. Everybody knows it.
This election has only one winner, and his name is Joachim Gauck. He showed that politics is more than just tactics and strategy. He proved that charisma and credibility have their place -- that such qualities are valued.
It is an important lesson for a new kind of politics.
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