Germany has elected a new president. Joachim Gauck, a former pastor and East German rights campaigner, drew backing from across the political spectrum.
The Federal Assembly, which is made up of the 620 members of the Bundestag and 620 delegates representing Germany's 16 regional states, chose Gauck over Beate Klarsfeld, an anti-Nazi activist nominated by the small Left party, and far-right candidate Olaf Rose.
Gauck received 991 votes, Klarsfeld got 126 and Rose received three out of 1,228 valid votes, while 108 delegates abstained.
Gauck accepted the result, saying, "What a beautiful Sunday."
He used his first speech as president to recall the first time he was able to vote in a free election: 22 years ago in communist East Germany, and he stressed the importance of freedom and of responsibility.
Five years to go
Earlier, in his opening address in the Reichstag building's main chamber, parliamentary speaker Norbert Lammert urged Germany to strive for a return to the five-year presidential term prescribed in Germany's constitution. He was referring to the previous short stints in office of Christian Wulff, and before him, Horst Köhler.
"No one would regard the increasingly short terms of recent times as an achievement," said Lammert, adding that exercising public office without trust was impossible.
In the largely ceremonial post, Gauck will be replacing Christian Wulff, a former Hanover-based state premier, who resigned last month in a scandal over financial favors after only 20 months as president.
In 2010, Gauck lost the previous presidential contest to Wulff, who was then Chancellor Angela Merkel's handpicked candidate. For Sunday's election, Merkel bowed to pressure from the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens and her own coalition conservatives to plump for Gauck.
Recent surveys show that up to 80 percent of Germans favor Gauck. A poll by Infratest also found that two-thirds thought Gauck would be an "uncomfortable" president for Germany's established political parties.
The 72-year-old, who was born in Rostock in eastern Germany, has no party affiliations, but a reputation for speaking his mind on freedom. His father spent four years in a Siberian gulag.#video#
Gauck studied theology, became a Lutheran pastor and emerged in the tense years before the fall of the Berlin Wall as spokesman for "New Forum," a network which demanded democratic reforms.
From 1990 until 2000, in the initial phase of German reunification, Gauck headed the agency that opened the archives of the dreaded Stasi, the East German secret police, and made its misdeeds public. He once described himself as a "conservative from the liberal left."
The Federal Assembly, Germany's largest parliamentary gathering, meets with the expressed purpose of electing the president, a post largely seen as providing a moral compass for the nation.
The assembly also includes prominent figures from the spheres of sport, culture, entertainment, science and religion.
On Sunday, at an ecumenical service in Berlin ahead of the election, the Roman Catholic Church's political intermediary in Germany, Prelate Karl Jüsten, cautioned against having too many expectations of the future president.
The president-elect is to be sworn in before the Bundestag and the upper house, the Bundesrat, on Friday.
ipj, ncy/ng (Reuters, dpa, AP, epd)