Germany will vote for a new president Sunday with popular incumbent Frank-Walter Steinmeier likely to win a second five-year term.
The 65-year-old Social Democrat, who has served as head of state since 2017, is supported by the co-governing parties, the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP) as well as by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU) opposition.
Their parties and parliamentary group leaders have officially proposed Steinmeier as the presidential candidate to the president of the German parliament, Baerbel Bas from SPD.
Steinmeier will face rather unknown presidential contenders like Gerhard Trabert, who is a doctor backed by the radical leftist party The Left (Die Linke), and Max Otte who is an economist and supported by the far-right AfD party.
Most recently, the fringe party Free Voters nominated physicist Stefanie Gebauer. But all three candidates have no chance given the majority in the Federal Assembly where the SPD, Greens, FDP, and CDU/CSU together make up 1,223 of the 1,472 members.
The AfD has 151 and The Left party has 71 delegates. The Free Voters are represented by 18 electors, the South Schleswig Voters’ Association (SSW) by two.
In light of the numbers, Steinmeier can expect to be re-elected on the first ballot. That requires an absolute majority of 737 votes. The number of votes would also have to be reached on a second ballot. A simple majority would suffice on the third.
The Federal Assembly made up of members from the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of Parliament, as well as representatives from the country’s 16 states, will decide who should be the next president.
The presidential position is regarded largely as a ceremonial role that carries few powers. It is often held by a senior politician who is seen as a unifying figure and an important moral compass for Germans in times of political and economic uncertainty.
The incumbent not only has a majority in the Federal Assembly behind him but also in the population.
In a Civey survey for the Augsburger Allgemeine daily, 55% of respondents said yes when asked whether Steinmeier had been a good Federal president. Thirty-one percent said no and 14% were undecided.
Steinmeier, who is widely respected across the country’s political scene, had already announced last May that he would be running for a second term.
The president had stressed he wanted to “accompany the country on its way into the future,” and continue to “build bridges” as Germany is still grappling with the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“These are turbulent times,” Steinmeier said. “The pandemic has inflicted deep wounds. It has brought suffering and grief, economic and psychological distress, and a great deal of frustration and bitterness. I would like to help heal these wounds.”
His remarks were echoed by his wife, Elke Buedenbender, who told newspapers of the Funke media group: “If my husband is re-elected, that is a special reason for him and for me to be happy and grateful. I hope that the pandemic will give us the chance to really take off.”
For her, a second term will be different simply because she will also work as a judge. She loves her job and now, at 60, has the opportunity to go back to the Berlin Administrative Court.
“I would also find it wrong to myself not to do it,” she said. But she wants to continue to work for young people and women, for participation, equality, and educational equality. Therefore, “my husband and I are convinced that it is best if I will be both – judge and first lady in the future,” she said.
The president was supported five years ago by the CDU/CSU and SPD, which formed a grand coalition at the time, as well as by the Greens and FDP, and was successful on the first ballot. He received 931 of 1,253 votes that were cast.
The former foreign minister and SPD parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag competed then against four competitors from the Left Party, AfD, the Free Voters Party, and the Pirate Party/The Party.
In a speech immediately after his election in 2017, Steinmeier urged Germans to encourage others and show it themselves, despite difficult times. “We are part of a world with its risks, and we also have risks,” Steinmeier said at the time. “But: Hardly anywhere in the world are there more opportunities than here. And who, if not us, can actually be in good spirits?”
Political encouragement also played an important role in Steinmeier’s first term.
For example, he stood up to protect local politicians who were increasingly exposed to hatred and hate speech. After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, he addressed the public in speeches, video messages, and a television address, campaigned for compliance with government counter-measures and asked for patience.
He later urged Germans to get vaccinated. Steinmeier repeatedly called for the liberal democracy, which had come under pressure, to be defended — whether against verbal attacks on social networks or most recently, by rather aggressive opponents of the state’s coronavirus policy.
On foreign state visits, Steinmeier liked to support heads of state who, as reformers, represented the values of democracy in the face of resistance in their own country or were looking for a connection to Europe.
This applied to the Republic of Moldova with its young President Maia Sandu or to Sudan with Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok, who has since failed.
Steinmeier will only be the fifth federal president to serve a second term if re-elected.
Theodor Heuss, Heinrich Luebke and Richard von Weizsaecker were each in office for a full 10 years. Horst Koehler was re-elected in 2009 but resigned a year later.
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