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Germany

German president's resignation is a blow to the government

The sudden resignation of the German president, Horst Koehler, is yet another challenge to a much-challenged government. Some analysts are saying the next days will be crucial for its future.

President Koehler and Chancellor Merkel sitting together

Merkel probably never expected that Koehler would cause a crisis for her

In an editorial, the website of German public broadcaster ZDF said "The fate of this [government] coalition will be decided in the next ten days."

That's a drastic view, but there's no doubt that the resignation of the German president, Horst Koehler, on Monday has delivered a major blow to the government. It has many important issues to be dealing with: The crisis in the eurozone, the need for drastic savings, or the military involvement in Afghanistan, to mention just a few.

And the government coalition, made up of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), has a few crises of its own: The poor showing of the two parties in the indecisive regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, the sudden resignation of powerful regional leader Roland Koch in Hessen, the internal backbiting within the liberal party, and disastrous opinion poll ratings.

So the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, could well do without the scramble to find a convincing new president within 30 days, as required by the constitution.

Is it a crisis?

Chancellor Merkel

Merkel said she regretted Koehler's departure and had tried to change his mind

In a major interview on the evening of Koehler's resignation, she insisted, "We have to be sure not to make a crisis out of every challenge."

But Peter Stuetzle, head of Deutsche Welle's Berlin office, thinks that a crisis is exactly what this is. "This has been one too much for the government," he says. "There's been a lot of trouble, and the government was just about to try to leave all that behind, and in this minute, Koehler resigns."

If the current government were doing well, the resignation would just be a nuisance, but it's a sign of the government's problems that the nuisance was immediately seen as a crisis.

All at sea

Merkel with the leaders of her coalition partners

Merkel's coalition partners have already said they'll leave the choice up to her

Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior CDU backbencher, says that people don't trust politicians of any party to solve the country's problems, and so when respected figures like Koehler or Koch resign, the people feel that "the good people have left the ship, and we don't how we will carry on in this rough sea."

What he, as a government supporter, fails to mention, is that, even if the people are disillusioned with all politicians, it's his coalition which has the power to pilot the ship, and so that's where the criticism hits particularly hard.

Merkel has often been criticized for her lack of leadership - she tends to sit things out and wait until a consensus emerges - but the choice of a new president will require decisive action. Peter Stuetzle thinks the whole coalition has recognized the need. Her partners - not just the Liberals, but also her Bavarian sister-party, the CSU - have agreed that they will do without their own candidates, and let her make the choice.

"Everything will be very fast," he thinks, "and if it's fast, and if it's convincing too, then the government might even come out of the whole thing with a better public image at the end of the day."

Author: Michael Lawton
Editor: Rob Turner

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