Germany’s new president was sworn in today as Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to put behind her an internal rebellion that turned his election into a near-disaster.
It took three rounds of voting in a nine-hour marathon on Wednesday before Christian Wulff – Merkel’s choice for the job – was elected, because dozens of members of her centre-right coalition refused to vote for him.
The rebellion was seen as a sign of discontent after Ms Merkel’s bumpy start into her second term.
Yet the chancellor today downplayed the political fallout.
When asked if she thought of the lack of support for Mr Wulff as a slap in her face, she only said the outcome of the election is “a challenge, to solve the problems that we have to solve”.
“I never took this election lightly, I knew it would not be easy,” she told RTL television.
Mr Wulff, a 51-year-old former state governor and senior leader of Ms Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, took the oath of office in the Reichstag parliament building.
In his first speech as president he stressed Germany’s role as a stable democracy and reliable partner in Europe.
But many in Ms Merkel’s coalition are still debating how the government can regain stability.
A survey released today by broadcaster ARD showed 62% of the 1,000 people polled think the coalition, comprised of Ms Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Free Democrats, will end soon.
Sixty-eight percent called the circumstances of Mr Wulff’s election a “disgrace” for Ms Merkel, and 77% said she has lost control of her coalition.
The largely ceremonial president traditionally has a role as the nation’s moral voice, but the president’s role otherwise is limited largely to signing legislation into law.
The ARD poll, conducted Wednesday and Thursday by Infratest dimap, also surveyed 799 people on the new head of state and found 72 % thought he would be a good president. Fully 79% said it was good that a relatively young president was chosen.
Mr Wulff said as he started his five-year term that it is important for as many people as possible be involved in political decisions and political parties - which, he insisted, “are much better than their reputation”.
He also said he wants to use his presidency to bridge the differences in German society and make it more common for the millions of immigrants to be successful.