The World from Berlin Presidential Election Is 'Symptomatic of the Coalition's Weakness'

Germany's new president, Christian Wulff, is taking the oath of office on Friday. But Wulff's lackluster ascent to power undermined confidence in Chancellor Angela Merkel's fragile coalition. Commentators on Friday asked if Germany's leader will be able to shake off the dark clouds.

Flowers for the president. Newly elected German President Christian Wulff was elected after a marathon three-vote saga on Wednesday.
dpa

Flowers for the president. Newly elected German President Christian Wulff was elected after a marathon three-vote saga on Wednesday.


It has turned into a feast for German political pundits. Since Wednesday, when Chancellor Angela Merkel's candidate for the presidency Christian Wulff needed three rounds before being elected, commentators have been having a field day. Wulff's new position is largely ceremonial, but most see Wednesday's vote as a debacle for Merkel for the deep disaffection with her ruling coalition it revealed.

Rebels in her center-right coalition damaged Merkel's standing by refusing to hand Wulff the absolute majority he needed to win in the first two votes. The tense nine-hour voting saga has prompted many to question whether the government can last until the end of the term in 2013.

The 51-year-old Wulff, from Merkel's Christian Democrats, will be sworn in on Friday, making him the youngest man to hold the office since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949. Speaking during a television interview on Thursday, he came across as calm, personable and self-assured, albeit lacking in the charisma of his opponent, the former East German civil rights activist Joachim Gauck.

The question is now whether he and Merkel can shore up support in order to confront the unpalatable political challenges on their plates. Merkel's coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats has seen support plummet since its election nine-months ago. A fresh poll on Friday showed that almost two out of three Germans expect the bickering coalition to see an early demise.

But press opinion on Friday is split. While some expected the coalition to crumble, others say that Wulff's humiliating election experience is now history, and the coalition will now try to find its focus.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"There has never been a coalition that has inflicted as much suffering on itself in such a short time as this one … The fact that Christian Wulff was elected in the final round of voting is symptomatic of the coalition's weakness. Practically nothing works straight-off for this disastrous coalition. If anything, it muddles through and whoever is involved is often left damaged. Those who consider such a situation to be normal can cordially smile after nine and a half hours in the Federal Assembly, as the chancellor did, and dub the result 'satisfactory.' In such moments, Angela Merkel seems as though she's holding firmly to the doorknob as a mudslide drags away the rest of the house."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"One can also take a completely different view of the presidential vote: Following presidential elections in 2004 and 2009, Merkel on Wednesday was able to get her candidate elected for the third time in a row. This week, she was able to observe how the opposition openly fought as a result of the election. She was able to see how a charismatic candidate like Joachim Gauck wasn't able to derail her plans. Overall, the number of coalition dissidents shows that, contrary to some speculation, Merkel is not a dictator. Nor is her Christian Democratic Union a club of Merkel lackeys."

"Christian Wulff -- and the success of his administration -- will shape our final verdict on this presidential election. Until then, we are left with the fact that it was an exciting election: Christian Wulff became president and Joachim Gauck was not discredited."

The left-leaning Tageszeitung writes:

"Strictly speaking, nothing has changed. The chancellor's candidate has been elected and the events of the vote itself are history. It should now be possible to return to day-to-day politics."

"So goes the theory at least, but feelings play a bigger role than formality in politics -- and the current atmosphere in Berlin is reminiscent of collapsing coalitions in the past. If Angela Merkel were decisive, she would now call new elections. There are, at the moment, no competitors within her own party she would have to fear."

"The likely result of a new election would be: The FDP would be weakened or pushed out of the coalition. Greens would come out strong; the CDU would beat the SPD. That would mean the CDU and the Greens would win. But, in reality, Merkel is not decisive."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The new president has been elected. The fact that it took three votes will not affect the performance of his administration. Two former presidents experienced a similar ballot: Gustav Heinemann in 1969 and Roman Herzog in 1994, and it did not dent their performances nor their popularity. In his acceptance speech, Wulff said his presidency would focus on the issues of German unity, integration and the challenges of the future, meaning our responsibility for future generations. This is a cleverly selected set of themes, especially seeing as he has already left his mark in these areas in previous political posts."

"Seen in the cold light of day, the presidential election has changed little in Berlin politics -- and that is a good thing. The coalition has showed that it can retain its majority in extreme situations. But it is also clear that the coalition is no dream couple, but rather a marriage of convenience."

-- Jess Smee

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