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Germany

IMF Chief Köhler Looks Set to Become Next German President

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Horst Köhler, is likely to become Germany's next president after he was officially nominated on Thursday as the candidate of the country's conservative and liberal parties.

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Köhler seems set to leave the IMF.

After discussions which lasted into the early hours of Thursday morning, Germany's main opposition parties finally agreed to put forward Horst Köhler, the chairman of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, as their joint candidate to become the country's ninth post-war president.

The decision to nominate 61-year-od Köhler for the presidency was taken by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

The conservatives and liberals together have a majority in the Federal Convention, a collection of federal and regional parliamentarians, who have the power to elect Germany's largely symbolic head of state. The vote will take place on May 23.

The current president, Johannes Rau, is a Social Democrat. Likely knowing he had little chance for a second term with the opposition controlling the Federal Convention, he has decided to step down. Now that CDU, CSU and FDP have decided on Köhler, his candidacy should encounter little opposition.

"I am very proud that we've managed this as we have under such complicated conditions," CDU party leader Angela Merkel said, adding she called Köhler at 2 a.m. Washington to tell him of the nomination. "He woke up rather quickly," she joked.

The agreements end several months of tense negotiations between the leaders of the three opposition parties and within the parties themselves over who should succeed Rau.

FDP against Schäuble

Recent negotiations regarding the possible nomination of Wolfgang Schäuble, the former CDU party chairman and one-time front-runner for the presidency, had threatened to split the opposition parties.

Much internal criticism has been aimed at Merkel for her failure to forcefully backing her predecessor. Merkel had expressed fears that Schäuble would face a rejection from enough FDP and CDU members in the Federal Assembly to torpedo his bid.

Köhler's chances to become president rose after the FDP said earlier this week it would not support nominating Schäuble.

If Köhler is elected president of Germany it will be remarkable twist in the story of his life and career. Born in Skierbieszów, southeastern Poland on February 22, 1943, Köhler is the seventh of eight children. His parents were ethnic German farmers from Romania. The family moved to Leipzig in communist East Germany after World War II, then fled to West Germany in 1954.

Köhler made a political name for himself as deputy finance minister between 1990 and 1993 under, Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It was Köhler who masterminded the funding of the withdrawal of the Red Army from the former German Democratic Republic after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also played Germany's part in the construction and completion of the Maastricht Treaty which put in place the rules governing economic and monetary union in Europe.

Currently the head of the IMF, Köhler had almost disappeared from the contemporary German political scene while working and living in Washington with his wife and two children.

Despite being a member of the CDU since 1981, Köhler is not a party politician. This could be seen as an advantage in the role of head of state, which is largely apolitical. The role of German president carries considerable moral authority although the role is mainly ceremonial.

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