Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 7 News List

German parliament to elect new president

AFP , BERLIN

Germany was to learn the name of its next president yesterday in a two-way battle between a former international finance chief and an academic hoping to become the country's first female head of state.

If the 1,205 members of a special federal assembly vote according to party lines, the successful candidate will be Horst Koehler, a conservative who led the International Monetary Fund until a few months ago.

Standing against him is Gesine Schwan, the choice of the ruling center-left coalition but with little chance of overturning the opposition conservatives' inbuilt majority on the assembly.

Koehler said Saturday that he was "excited but confident." Schwan told her supporters, including Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, that there was everything still to play for.

The vote was taking place at the Reichstag, the seat of parliament, and was to be screened live on television. The winner will take office on June 30.

Although the trappings of head of state are largely ceremonial, the post is prestigious. The president of 82 million Germans meets world leaders, travels the globe representing the country and enjoys a stately residence in the heart of Berlin.

Politically he has virtually no power, although the incumbent is seen as a kind of moral arbiter.

Certainly that was the role outgoing President Johannes Rau fulfilled, his latest comments in a radio interview Saturday reminding Germans that they have no reason to grumble despite their economic woes.

The Christian Union alliance and their liberal FDP allies have an absolute majority on the assembly, and the result may be known after just one round of voting.

The build-up to the vote was marred by a fuss over one of the conservative delegates, a 90-year-old former military judge, Hans Filbinger, who is accused of helping hand out death penalties in the last year of World War II.

Schroeder's Social Democrats all but called for his resignation, while the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center said his participation "would be a stain on Germany's democratic record."

But the Christian Union stuck firm, pointing out that he had taken part in six previous federal assemblies without any row.

As for the candidates, they were virtually unknown before their nominations and have had to introduce themselves to the general public.

Koehler, who has worked all his life in national and international finance, is 61, married with two children, and was born in Skierbieszow, Poland, which at the time was under German rule.

In his campaign, he irked some conservatives by branding the US as "arrogant" over Iraq and by supporting tough economic policies.

Schwan, who celebrated her 61st birthday on Saturday, runs the elite Viadrina European University on Germany's border with Poland.

A mother of two, she has pressed Polish-German reconciliation and European relations as well as the key Franco-German axis.

This story has been viewed 2663 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top