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Germany

Labor minister early favorite for German presidential nomination

Germany's coalition government chiefs are deciding on a candidate to become the country's next president. Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen is already emerging as the favorite, but there are other names in the running.

Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen is believed to be the chancellor's choice

Talks have intensified on who should be Germany’s next president, with Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen emerging as a favorite.

The heads of Germany’s governing coalition have been meeting in Berlin to find a suitable successor to president Horst Koehler, who resigned with immediate effect on Monday. Koehler stood down saying he felt unjustly criticized over remarks he made about German military operations abroad.

Reichstag with German flag

Germany has 30 days to find and elect a new president

Von der Leyen appeared to be Chancellor Angela Merkel's favorite, the German news agency DAPD reports a coalition official as saying after initial consultations between Merkel and her coalition partners. "There is a very strong preference for von der Leyen in the chancellor’s office," said the source.

President of the German parliament Norbert Lammert and former environment minister Klaus Toepfer, who like von der Leyen are members of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party (CDU), are also strong contenders.

A pragmatic politician

Von der Leyen, a 52-year-old mother of seven who has served in Merkel's cabinets since 2005, is generally considered to be a pragmatic conservative. The CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU are believed to support her candidature. The third coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), has yet to decide on a name.

Merkel announced on Monday that her coalition would find a candidate it then would present to the opposition parties.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel wants a new president all parties can agree on

The Federal Convention, the body which is to vote on the new president, has been called together for June 30. As Merkel's coalition is expected to hold the majority in the convention, the opposition would have no way of opposing the government's choice. But Merkel has indicated they would try to find someone who would be accepted by government and opposition alike.

'Talk to everyone'

Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, said it is Merkel's task to "talk with everyone in the German Parliament, the Bundestag, as well as with the states about the new candidate, so that maybe we can find someone we all can suggest together."

Should the government not include the opposition in the talks, Gabriel said the opposition might bring forward its own candidate.

Another possible successor is current Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a senior figure in Merkel's Christian Democrats. Wheelchair-bound after a failed assassination attempt in 1990, Schaeuble however has been suffering from increasingly poor health recently.

The Federal Convention is a parliamentary body solely responsible for the selection of the federal president. It comprises all members of the lower house of parliament as well as representatives of the states.

Former President Horst Koehler

Many German media reports suggest his move has damaged the office of president

Criticism of Koehler's resignation

Horst Koehler's resignation with immediate effect stunned the German public. He took the step after a comment he made about the international deployment of German troops sparked a fierce debate.

Koehler had come under fire for saying that a country like Germany, which is heavily reliant on foreign trade, must know that military intervention could be necessary to uphold German economic interests.

He later claimed his remarks were misunderstood and had not referred to the mission in Afghanistan. Koehler justified his resignation by saying accusations against him were unworthy of the high office he held.

His decision to resign over the issue has taken the country by surprise and has been received largely negatively.

Reports in the German media suggest his move has damaged the office of the president, saying that Koehler should have been able to weather the storm of criticism.

The German presidency is a largely ceremonial position. Koehler began his term as president in 2004 and was re-elected in 2009.

ai/rc/dpa/Reuters/AP
Editor: Rob Turner

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