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Choosing Germany's Next President

Germany elects a new head of state in May. Political leaders are beginning to express preferences, knowing that their choice could have an effect on who becomes chancellor in 2006.


Will a man or a woman move into Berlin's Bellevue Palace?

For some, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Angela Merkel might be the perfect person to succeed Federal President Johannes Rau, who at age 72 declined to run for reelection last September. Merkel’s party is also likely to choose Germany’s next figurehead as it has the most votes in the federal assembly that elects the president.

Angelika Merkel auf Sommertour

A full time job of accepting flower bouquets doesn't seem to fit Angela Merkel's future career plans.

But the former eastern German doesn’t seem interested in becoming the next tenant at Berlin’s presidential palace, since doing so would require that she give up her membership in the country's leading opposition party. Instead, she’s eyeing the possibility of becoming a candidate for chancellor during the general elections planned for 2006. That’s also the reason Merkel (photo) has apparently been hesitant in suggesting another woman for the highest office in the land.

Two women at the top too much for Germans?

Remembering the dangers of a powerful president, which played a crucial role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, the founding fathers of post-war Germany limited the position of federal president to largely ceremonial duties such as state visits and signing laws. Germans seem ready to accept a first female president, but there’s some doubt as to whether they would also elect a woman to head the government two years later.

Like most politicians, Merkel has held back on naming a personal favorite, saying that a hasty decision would not dignify the importance of the office. But she seems to want a man for the job. Her dream candidate is likely to be Edmund Stoiber, the leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). But Stoiber, who beat Merkel as candidate for chancellor in the 2002 elections and might want to do the same again in 2006, has made it clear that he’d rather stay on as premier of his state for the time being.

The CSU seems ready to nominate another candidate for the job: Wolfgang Schäuble, a former government minister and CDU leader, who now serves as his party’s spokesman for foreign, security and European policy in parliament.

Klaus Töpfer bei der UNEP (Umweltschutzprogramm der UN) in Genf, Schweiz

UN Under-Secretary-General Klaus Töpfer is a possible candidate for federal president.

According to a report in the mass circulation German daily Bild, Merkel could also nominate a fellow former minister of environmental issues: Klaus Töpfer (CDU, photo), who now serves as head of the United Nations Environment Program. An announcement could come as early as next week, according to the paper.

Chancellor wants a Mrs. President

Töpfer is a candidate some Greens might support as president as well, party leader Reinhard Bütikofer recently said. He added that Rita Süssmuth (CDU, photo), an education studies professor and former president of parliament, was another candidate worth considering.

Rita Süßmuth

Rita Süssmuth.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the Social Democrats is also pushing for a femake president. Should the CDU pick a suitable woman, his party might not even nominate their own candidate, he told the newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

Neo-liberals as president-makers

But the Christian Democrats have no reason to take Schröder up on his offer. Together with the neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP), they control the majority of votes in the federal assembly -- the body that elects the president and is comprised of members of Germany’s lower house, the Bundestag, and an equal number of delegates from the 16 states. FDP leaders have said they might still nominate their own candidate. But as likely coalition partners in any future CDU-led government, they are expected to support the Christian Democrat's choice.

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