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Koehler aftermath

May 24, 2009

With Horst Koehler re-elected as Germany's president, political parties and pundits are busy analyzing the implications of the vote as to who will grasp power in the Bundestag. General elections are due in September.

The German parliament building, the Bundestag
Is the presidential vote a signal for September's general election?Image: Berliner Reichstag, Berlin, Deutschland

Not surprisingly, the head of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat parliamentary group, Volker Kauder, interpreted Koehler's easy victory in the first round of voting as a positive signal for his party.

"The message from this election," Kauder said on national television, "is that the mainstream majority can prevail."

"For the mainstream majority of the union and FDP, this is a delightful outcome and a reason to be confident," said Kauder, referring to the conservative sister parties of Christian Democrats and Christian Social Union and the liberal Free Democrats.

"The mainstream can prevail"

The vote in the Federal Convention illustrated that "when we are in a situation that matters, we have what it takes to ensure stability," Kauder explained.

Horst Koehler applauding deputies for electing him
Horst Koehler is happy to serve a second termImage: AP

Immediately after the vote, Chancellor Merkel, CSU chairman Horst Seehofer and FDP leader Guido Westerwelle all said that the result was a signal pointing toward mutual success in September's parliamentary election. Merkel stressed that the outcome showed "that what we wanted to happen did happen, together, and not alone."

Understandably, the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), who are seeking a majority of their own in September without the CDU/CSU and FDP, saw no signal effect whatsoever from Koehler's re-election. The defeat of their candidate, Gesine Schwan, "has nothing to do with the outcome of the next federal election," said SPD chairman Franz Muentefering.

Left Party chairman, Oskar Lafontaine, agreed with that assessment, saying he "was convinced" that there would be no CDU-FDP majority after the general election.

The pitfalls of politics

Political analyst Gerd Langguth from the University of Bonn, who has written a book on Horst Koehler, went as far as to say that there were some parliamentary deputies in the SPD who were happy that Koehler was chosen quickly in the first round of voting, in which the SPD's Schwan and the Left Party candidate Peter Sodann competed against one another.

"If there had been a third round of voting, it could have come to a coalition between the SPD and the Left Party, which would have cast a long shadow over the campaign trail in the coming months," Langguth explained in an interview with the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel.

The Federal Assembly meeting in the Reichstag to elect the presdient
The Federal Assembly met on May 23 to elect the presidentImage: AP

Had this been the case, the CDU/CSU and FDP would have repeatedly made a point of this during the campaign, warning of the dangers of an SPD-Left coalition, Langguth said.

"That's why, in the medium term, this defeat could end up being an advantage, " Langguth says.

The Green Party has its own interpretation of Koehler's election. The Greens see his wafer-thin majority with the help of votes from the independent voter group, Freie Waehler, as a sign that the CDU/CSU and FDP do not have enough votes to ensure a majority on their own. "It will be very close this fall," predicts Juergen Trittin, the Green Party's top candidate for the general election.

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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