Protocol leaves likely president sitting alone | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.03.2012
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Protocol leaves likely president sitting alone

After watching his opponent be appointed German president in 2010, Joachim Gauck looks sure to take over when Germany's Federal Assembly meets. The real question is not whether he wins, but where he finds a seat.

Joachim Gauck congratulating Christian Wullf at his election as presdient in 2010

Gauck (l) and his predecessor, Christian Wullf (r), who was only in office for 598 days

If everything goes according to plan, the members of the Federal Assembly - the formal convention that elects Germany's president - will wrap up their electoral session in parliament on March 18 after a little more than two hours.

The election - expected to conclude with just one round of voting - is the third time in as many years that Germany has had to choose a new president. Normally, the term of office runs five years and can be extended to 10.

The outgoing president, Christian Wulff, bid farewell after just 598 days in office on the heels of an alleged loan scandal. His term as Germany's highest ranking official was the shortest in history. Wulff's predecessor, Horst Köhler, stepped down in 2010 shortly after beginning his second term and after a controversial interview about the German armed forces mission in Afghanistan.

Tight squeeze

Workers rearranging the seating in the Reichstag for the Federal Assembly

More than 1,200 delegates will be packed into the Reichstag

Despite what may now seem routine, convening the Federal Assembly costs taxpayers about a million euros and requires a lot of work behind the scenes.

Workers have to remove all the seats in the parliamentary chamber, where deputies usually sit, and replace them with narrower metal chairs to accommodate the much larger number of Assembly delegates. Besides the 620 members of parliament, the Federal Assembly comprises another 620 delegates from Germany's 16 states. In addition to those 1,240 people, there are also 89 substitute delegates.

The total number of state delegates is calculated according to the individual states' population, while the political configuration depends on the number of seats each political party has in the respective state parliament.

Problems with protocol

Although everything for the Federal Assembly is regulated right down to the smallest detail, there are a few open issues this time around. For example, where will Gauck sit?

His opponent from the Left Party, Beate Klarsfeld, will be seated with the party members who nominated her for the post.

But as a consensus candidate for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union; its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union; the Free Democrats, the junior member in Merkel's ruling coalition; as well as the opposition Social Democratic Party and the Greens, it's unlikely Gauck will want to demonstrate support for any particular party.

He may take a seat next to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who fought hard to make sure he wasn't appointed in 2010, or in an effort to forego controversy take a seat in the visitors' balcony.

Beate Klarsfeld, the Left party candidate

The Left Party candidate has little chance of winning

Should Gauck do so, he'll be joined there by Olaf Rose, the candidate supported by the far-right National Democratic Party. Where the three NPD Assembly delegates will be seated is controversial and still undecided. The CDU/CSU and the Greens have refused to be anywhere near the far-right extremists because they have delegates whose relatives were victims of neo-Nazi attacks.

It is also quite possible that the Federal Assembly will forego a presentation of the candidates before the vote just to avoid giving a public platform to the NPD candidate.

At least 621 votes needed

Joachim Gauck at a memorial service for the victims of neo-Nazi violence

Gauck has made a name for himself as a strong supporters of civil and human rights

Should Gauck win an absolute majority of 621 votes in the first of a possible three rounds of voting in the Federal Assembly, he will be asked if he accepts the result. If he does, "citizen" Gauck will become the highest ranking public official of Germany - and the 11th person to hold the post. He would then address the Assembly, before Parliamentary President Norbert Lammert makes his closing remarks and adjourns the session with the national anthem.

The 15th Federal Assembly in post-war German history promises to be a rather technical, than political, affair. The glamour factor is also not especially scintillating. Normally, the political parties nominate their own candidates, who tend to be prominent figures from the world of politics, business, sports or culture.

This time, nearly all of those present will be professional politicians with little interest in a second, or third, round of voting - especially with spring at the doorstep and a long winter of crises behind them.

Author: Kay-Alexander Scholz / gb
Editor: Sean Sinico

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