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Steinmeier reelected as German president

February 13, 2022

German politicians and delegates from across the country reelected Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the largely ceremonial role of head of state.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier waves after his reelection
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's reelection was not in doubt ahead of Sunday's voteImage: Michael Probst/AP Photo/picture alliance

German president re-elected for second term

Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected for a second term as Germany's president on Sunday.

The incumbent won 77% support at the Bundesversammlung (Federal Convention) in Berlin.

The session consisted of the members of Germany's Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, along with an equal number of delegates chosen by the country's 16 states.

What did Steinmeier say after reelection?

In accepting a second five-year term, Steinmeier said he is on the side of everyone promoting democracy and warned about the prospect of war if Russia invades Ukraine.

"We are in the midst of the danger of a military conflict, a war in eastern Europe," Steinmeier told the convention, adding that "Russia bears responsibility for this."

"I appeal to [Russian] President Putin: Loosen the noose around Ukraine's neck and seek with us a path that preserves peace in Europe," he added.

Steinmeier also refused to avoid confrontation with radical opponents of the government's COVID-19 response, in a reference to the Querdenker (lateral thinker) movement that has spread lies and conspiracy theories.

"To those who tear open wounds, who spread hatred and lies in the distress of the pandemic, who talk of a 'Corona dictatorship' and who make threats and violence against policewomen, nurses and mayors, to them I say: 'I'm here, I'm staying,'" the president said.

But he also conceded that the pandemic has "inflicted deep wounds in our society" and mistakes have been made. "But, ladies and gentlemen, show me an authoritarian system that would have been would have come through this crisis better." 

The decisive breakthrough in the fight against COVID was the rapid vaccine development achieved by Germany with partners in Europe and the United States, Steinmeier said. 

"For all the self-criticism that is necessary, we should not hide our light under a bushel."

Who were the candidates?

President Steinmeier, 66, a Social Democrat who served two stints as former Chancellor Angela Merkel's foreign minister and before was chief of staff to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, is well-liked among the German public.  A recent opinion poll indicated that 85% of people in Germany thought he was doing a good job, and he enjoys the support of the ruling coalition and the mainstream conservative opposition parties.

The three other candidates were left-winger Gerhard Trabert, 65, who ran for the opposition Left Party, physicist Stefanie Gebauer, 41, who was nominated by a political group called the Free Voters, and Max Otte, 57, an archconservative economist chosen by the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The latter choice made waves in the German political scene, as Otte is not a member of the AfD and remains a part of the mainstream Christian Democrats (CDU). The leaders of CDU have vowed to cancel his membership.

What does the German president do?

How did voting take place?

The Federal Convention did not meet in the Reichstag as usual, owing to pandemic regulations requiring the voters to remain 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart.

Instead, the vote took place in the neighboring Paul Löbe House, with delegates spread over several rooms and floors.

The vote was cast by secret ballot, with delegates called to the voting booths in alphabetical order.

Out of 1,437 total votes, Steinmeier received 1045. Otte garnered 140 voters, Trabet received 96, and Gebauer got 58.

There were 86 abstentions and 12 votes were invalid.

What does Germany's president do?

While German presidents have little executive power, they aspire to be moral authorities above daily politics.

Anyone holding the office signs bills into law and represents Germany in various ceremonies both inside and outside the country. 

During Steinmeier's first term in office, he championed liberal democracy in Germany and abroad and urged dialogue on sensitive issues. Recently, that included plans for compulsory vaccination against the coronavirus.

mm,tj/sms (dpa, AP)