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Germany

New German president was 'always confident he'd win'

Germany's new president, Christian Wulff says he never doubted he'd win Wednesday's vote, despite his rocky road to victory. He described the difficult ballot as 'markedly fair, and an example for our democracy.'

Christian Wulff giving his acceptance speech

Damage control may be Wulff's first chore in his new post

Christian Wulff said he never feared defeat in his ultimately successful bid to become Germany's new president, even though his election did not run as smoothly as expected. Wulff even praised the vote - in which some politicians in his political corner chose to support opposing candidates - describing it as "markedly fair, and an example for our democracy."

Despite holding a majority within the Federal Convention of lawmakers and public figures who elected Wulff, it took the center-right coalition a full three rounds of voting to put their man in the position.

"I was always convinced it would work out in the end, partly because of the constellation (within the voting assembly)," Wulff said in an extended interview on public television on Thursday evening.

"What's more, I had over 600 supporters in every round of voting, while Joachim Gauck was always under 500, so there was a large margin over all three rounds."

Third-time lucky - again

Wulff even made light of the situation, pointing out that he's accustomed to having to wait for political success – having lost twice to former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in his bid to become state premier of Lower Saxony.

"Okay, (the vote) lasted a long time, but as I said yesterday, it took me nine years to finally become state premier at the third attempt, so the nine hours yesterday was like the blink of an eye!"


Christian Wulff embraces his wife Bettina after securing the victory.

Eventually, Wulff got to celebrate with his wife

In the interview, the Christian Democrat Wulff described himself as a bridge-builder, prepared to swim against the tide - singling out his decision to appoint Germany's first Muslim cabinet minister at state-level earlier this year - saying it was now his job to be a politician without party affiliation who would operate neutrally and objectively.

Wulff will take the oath of office, and be officially sworn in as the country's new head of state, on Friday.

Open questions in Merkel's government

The government was licking its wounds on Thursday after rebels in Merkel's coalition turned what everyone had expected to be a straightforward presidential election into a humiliating debacle.


Some of the delegates casting their votes in Berlin.

Some delegates decided to vote against their parties

Expressing pretty much the collective sentiments of the center-right government, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the NTV news channel that what counted was that "we have a president in the third round (of voting) with an absolute majority and with a clear lead over his challengers."

Merkel's Christian Democrat parliamentary party leader, Volker Kauder, struggled to put a positive spin on the outcome. "Perhaps it was not particularly elegant, but it's the result that counts," he said.

Westerwelle's Free Democrat colleague, Holger Zastrow, who heads the FDP in Saxony, admitted that the government was in difficulty.

"The fact is the coalition has huge problems. Our policy-making has been bad in the past half year; that's why the ball in now in the conservative's court," he said. Zastrow also said his party knew which four of its delegates did not vote for Wulff.

In theory, the government had more than enough votes in the Federal Convention of lawmakers plus public figures to secure a comfortable victory in the first round of balloting.

Media finds little solace in vote

However, in what the Berlin-based Tagesspiegel newspaper dubbed "the day of the long knives", enough of Merkel's three-party coalition rebelled so that Wulff fell short of an absolute majority in the first two rounds of secret voting.


Chancellor Merkel (l) and Christian Wulff were not happy about the initial outcome

It was a long wait for Chancellor Merkel and Christian Wulff

The weekly, Die Zeit, called the ballot a "humiliation" for Merkel, while the business daily Handelsblatt described the "debacle" as the chancellor's "first vote of no confidence."

The mass circulation Bild newspaper called Wulff's humbling election a "massive slap" for Merkel.

The political scientist, Oskar Niedermayer, from Berlin's Free University, called the vote a failure.

"The coalition has clearly failed to give a show of unity and of the new start so badly needed to escape from the slump it has been in for weeks," he said.

The election caps a rough few months for Merkel, who has seen her popularity nosedive over her handling of the eurozone crisis and plans to slash government spending.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung summed up the dreary picture saying "a shadow is now hanging over Angela Merkel. She was not on the ballot but she was the big loser," the paper wrote.

After all the political sniping, Wulff now has to convince the country that he is up to the job of president.

His old job, as state premier of Lower Saxony, is no longer his. David McAllister, a 39-year-old of Scottish-German descent, was sworn in to succeed him on Thursday, becoming Germany's youngest state premier.

Author: Gregg Benzow/Mark Hallam (dpa/AP/AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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