Köhler Elected German President | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.05.2004
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Köhler Elected German President

Horst Köhler, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, was elected Germany's new president on Sunday. He said he wanted to use the ceremonial post to make the country a "land of ideas."


Horst Köhler will be Germany's ninth postwar president

Winning the presidency in the first round of voting of Germany's Federal Assembly, Köhler garnered 604 votes compared to 589 for his opponent, university president Gesine Schwan. In a speech after his election, the ninth postwar president said he wanted to encourage Germany to become a country of innovation and ideas.

"For me, Germany has been too slow on its path to a knowledge society," said the 61-year-old Köhler. He added he would also support efforts to continue with hard economic and social reforms. "We have to face reality. Germany will have to fight for its place in the 21st century."

The former managing director of the International Monetary Fund was nominated for the presidency by the opposition conservative Christian Democratic Union, its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union and the liberal Free Democratic Party. His victory over the Social Democrats' and Greens' candidate Schwan was never really in doubt.

Opposition majority in assembly

Horst Köhler neuer Bundespräsident Bundesversammlung in Berlin

Although the ruling center-left coalition of Social Democrats and Greens control the lower house of parliament, the conservatives and liberal have a majority in the Bundesversammlung, or Federal Assembly, which elects Germany's president.

The body is a special constitutional body that convenes solely for this purpose. It is made up of federal parliamentarians, delegates from Germany's 16 states and persons from the country's sport, cultural and business life.

Elected for a term of five years, Germany's president has primarily a symbolic function and wields limited powers but does have moral authority. Past presidents have played an important role in national life by opening debates on broad ethical and social issues.

Köhler has had a distinguished career in international finance, but both in and outside Germany, he's relatively unknown. In his speech he suggested he wanted to be an inclusive president at a time when the country is struggling economically and socially.

"I want to be president of all Germans and all those who live here," he said. Köhler will take over from retiring President Johannes Rau on July 1.

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.

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