Never before in Germany's history has a president resigned. But the country's constitution has clear guidelines on what happens next - and a power vacuum is not in sight.
Germany's interim President Jens Boehrnsen
President Horst Koehler's resignation is an unheard-of event in Germany, but it will not result in a power vacuum. According to the constitution, the head of the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament that represents Germany's federal states, takes over at this point.
Every year, one of the 16 state premiers takes on the position of Bundesrat president. The present incumbent is Jens Boehrnsen, the Social Democratic (SPD) mayor of Bremen.
Boehrnsen will take over all of the federal president's duties until an electoral college, the Federal Convention, elects a successor for Koehler. The Federal Convention must convene within 30 days - in this case, by June 30.
The Federal Convention is Germany's largest parliamentary body, and is solely responsible for the selection of the federal president. All of the members of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, are entitled to vote, as well as a corresponding number of representatives from the federal states. The Convention last met a year ago, in May 2009, to re-elect Koehler. Then, it numbered 1,224 delegates.
Germany could be in for a difficult vote
The federal president is elected by secret ballot, without a prior debate, and requires an absolute majority. Should none of the candidates achieve an absolute majority in the first round, then the candidate who receives a simple majority in a third round of voting is considered elected as president.
Germany's head of state is not elected by the people. As a rule, the political parties suggest candidates, not necessarily someone from within their ranks but a respected public figure capable of representing Germany across party boundaries. Horst Koehler, for instance, was supported by the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP), the current ruling coalition in Berlin.
This presidential election promises to be interesting because of the unclear situation in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), which dispatches the greatest number of delegates to the Federal Convention. The newly-elected parliament in Duesseldorf does not have a governing majority yet, as coalition talks are still underway. The result of these talks could have an effect on which way the NRW delegates votes.
As a rule, Federal Convention delegates are free to vote for the candidate of their choice, but generally, they do adhere to their respective parties' recommendations.
Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz (db)
Editor: Rob Turner