Date set for German presidential vote

A special assembly of the German parliament will vote on March 18 for a successor to former president Christian Wulff, who resigned abruptly on Friday over growing allegations that he had received favours from friends.

Speaker Norbert Lammert announced the vote, which is widely seen as a formality because Germany’s governing parties and major opposition have agreed to jointly nominate former East German human rights activist Joachim Gauck, 72.

Mr Gauck is a former Lutheran priest who opposed the former East Germany’s communist regime.

Mr Wulff, 52, stepped down from the largely ceremonial post after two months of allegations that he received favours such as a favourable loan and hotel stays from friends when he was state governor of Lower Saxony.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told a hastily called news conference on Sunday night that her centre-right coalition government and the centre-left opposition rallied behind Mr Gauck, who was initially proposed by the opposition Social Democrats and Greens. He is not a member of any political party.

“What moves me the most is that a man who was still born during the gloomy, dark war, who grew up and lived 50 years in a dictatorship ... is now called to become the head of state,” Mr Gauck said.

“This is of course a very special day in my life.”

Ms Merkel, who also grew up in East Germany, or the GDR, said their life stories strongly connected them. “We have both spent a part of our life in the GDR and our dream of freedom has become true in 1989,” she said.

The chancellor stressed that clergymen such as Mr Gauck were at the forefront of the protests that eventually brought down the communist regime.

Mr Wulff quit as president after prosecutors asked parliament to strip him of his immunity from prosecution over accusations of improper ties to businessmen.

Mr Wulff was Ms Merkel’s candidate when elected less than two years ago, triumphing at that time over Mr Gauck in a messy election.

Opposition leader Sigmar Gabriel made a jibe at Ms Merkel at their joint news conference at Berlin’s chancellery, saying “it is now evident that all involved regret that Joachim Gauck failed to get elected (in 2010), therefore it is good that we now have him as joint candidate”.

When Mr Wulff resigned, Ms Merkel said she would work with the Social Democrats and Greens to find a consensus candidate to succeed him.

She appeared eager to quickly resolve the troublesome issue, bringing an end to the scandal that had engulfed Mr Wulff, allowing her to refocus on fixing Europe’s debt crisis.

Mr Gauck urged Germans not to make him out to be a “superman” or a “man without faults”, but pledged to do his utmost to restore a sense of pride to the nation, telling them they “live in a good country that they can love because it gives them the wonderful possibility to enjoy freedom in a rich life”.

While his name widely circulated as the opposition’s favourite, it was not clear until last night whether the governing coalition would rally behind the candidate.

“I’m coming right out of a plane, I was in a taxi when the chancellor called me. I haven’t even washed,” Mr Gauck said at the news conference.

He added he was still stunned by the nomination, unable to voice great joy, but “very late tonight, I will also be happy”.

Most Read in World