Germany to elect new president

A German parliamentary assembly is electing the country's new president today.

The country's former foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is the overwhelming favourite to succeed Joachim Gauck, a 77-year-old former pastor and East German pro-democracy activist who is not seeking a second five-year term because of his age.

The German president has little executive power, but is considered an important moral authority.

The president is elected by a special 1,260-member assembly made up of the 630 lawmakers in parliament's lower house and an equal number of representatives from Germany's 16 states.

Mr Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister until last month, has the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel's "grand coalition" of centre-right and centre-left parties.

Between them, Mrs Merkel's conservative Union bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats - her junior coalition partners - hold 923 seats, which should assure Mr Steinmeier's election.

The presidential vote is likely to be one of the last moments of coalition unity ahead of a parliamentary election in September in which Mrs Merkel is seeking a fourth term. Both sides hope to end the "grand coalition".

Mr Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, has long been one of Germany's most popular politicians. As former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's chief of staff, he was one of the main architects of Schroeder's 2003 package of economic reforms and welfare cuts.

Under Mrs Merkel, he served twice as foreign minister, from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2013 until this year, with a stint as opposition leader in between. He has won respect for his persistence in trying to resolve the long-running crisis in Ukraine.

Mr Steinmeier, 61, is normally studiously diplomatic, but strongly criticised Donald Trump during the US election campaign.

Asked in August about the rise of right-wing populism in Germany and elsewhere, Mr Steinmeier criticised those who "make politics with fear".

He cited the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, the promoters of Britain's exit from the European Union, and "the hate preachers, like Donald Trump at the moment in the United States".

There are four other candidates in Sunday's election.

The opposition Left Party nominated Christoph Butterwegge, a political science professor who opposed Schroeder's economic reforms. A deputy leader of Alternative for Germany, Albrecht Glaser, also is running, as is Alexander Hold, nominated by the small Free Voters party in Bavaria, and Engelbert Sonneborn, the father of a satirist.

AP


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