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Germany

Support grows for opposition presidential candidate Gauck

An increasing number of politicians from the ruling coalition say they are in favor of Joachim Gauck, the opposition presidential candidate rather than Chancellor Merkel's choice, Christian Wulff.

Joachim Gauck

Gauck hopes to win support from all parties

Support is growing in Germany's government for Joachim Gauck, a day after German opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the Green Party, presented the former director of the Stasi archives as their presidential candidate.

Joerg Schoenbohm, former head of Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU) in Brandenburg has expressed his support for Gauck.

"I ask myself why it was not possible in the conservative camp to agree with the SPD on Gauck," he told Der Spiegel magazine.

"I personally have huge sympathies for Joachim Gauck," Holger Zastrow, head of the market-friendly liberal FDP, the CDU's government coalition partner, in the state of Saxony told newspaper Welt am Sonntag. "We're not going to automatically back Christian Wulff (the governing coalition's candidate backed by Chancellor Merkel)."

In an interview with Deutsche Welle on Friday, Gauck said the next president would have to restore people's faith in politics.

"I don't like this increasing divide between the political class and the average population, and many people in Germany don't like it either," he said. "We all have to work together to change this, to make sure that the people and the politicians come closer together."

Gauck also criticized a "mindset of worry" present in much of Western Europe.

"Here, the presidential office can play a bigger role than others to banish fear and say to the people that they won't be victims of their own trepidation, but that they have a number of possibilities" he said.

"Fear makes you short-sighted… and that's why we need a broader effort to empower the people to find ways out of this crisis."

Not a mere politician

The head of the Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, praised Gauck as someone "who comes with a full life to his candidacy, not just a political career."

Joachim Gauck (middle), and left to right Cem Özdemir, Juergen Trittin, Sigmar Gabriel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Gauck has the backing of the Social Democrats and the Greens

After reunification in 1990, the 70-year-old Gauck became the head of the Stasi archives and led the organization that catalogues and analyzes documents from East Germany's secret police.

Gauck, a Protestant pastor from the former East, was a well-known civil rights activist before reunification. He was a member of the New Forum, a democratic opposition movement in East Germany.

Former German foreign minister and head of the Social Democrats in parliament, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said he is confident that Gauck will gain broad support.

"I'm sure he will not only be supported by the public, but that he will also motivate a few people in the federal convention to consider if their decision should be based on narrow-minded party political arguments."

The Social Democrats as well as the Greens criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel's government for choosing their candidate based on political aspects rather than suitability.

Christian Wulff, Angela Merkel

With the support of the ruling coalition, Wulff is likely to become the next German president

Government candidate

Germany's governing coalition on Thursday announced their candidate for president, the state premier of Lower Saxony, Christian Wulff.

Chancellor Angela Merkel led the proposals for Wulff as the successor to Horst Koehler, who resigned unexpectedly at the start of the week.

Wulff has governed the state of Lower Saxony since 2003 and would be Germany's youngest-ever president. He is a deputy leader of Merkel's Christian Democrat party (CDU).

In accepting the nomination, Wulff said the office of president was "a great duty, with great responsibility."

He added he "looked forward to the challenge" and would try to "bring optimism in difficult times."

Next stages

The Federal Convention is scheduled to vote on the new president June 30. The assembly is made up of 1,244 state and federal lawmakers, and Merkel's coalition has a majority.

The role of the German president is largely ceremonial, although the president does sign off on legislation and is seen as a figurehead on national issues.

Authors: Nicole Goebel, Andrew Bowen, Catherine Bolsover (dpa/AP/AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner

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