Germany’s Federal Assembly has reelected the country’s mostly ceremonial president, Horst Köhler, a conservative ally of prime minister (Chancellor) Angela Merkel, to a second 5-year term.
We can call him Landslide Horst, for he won 613 votes in the 1,224-member Assembly. Gesine Schwan, a political science professor endorsed by the Social Democratic and Green parties, came in second with 503 votes. (Financial Times.)
The Federal Assembly includes all 612 members of the first chamber of the national parliament, the Bundestag, and 612 delegates chosen specifically for this purpose by the state legislatures. The Federal Assembly meets only for the purpose of electing the president, which it may take up to three ballots to do. The first two ballots require an absolute majority of all members, whereas the third ballot requires only a majority of votes cast for the previous top two candidates. Several past election have required a third ballot.
The voting procedure is unusual. We might call it “roll-call secret ballot.” Each of the 1,224 member’s names is called, and the member then places a ballot, inside a sealed envelope, into a clear ballot box at the Assembly’s dais.
The campaign is also interesting. DW-TV reported as the vote was taking place that the candidates had “stumped” all around the country and that the outcome would be taken as an indication of the main parties’ strengths heading into the general parliamentary election due in September. This despite the fact that, obviously, this is an elite-driven electoral process with no popular votes, and all the members are chosen by Germany’s normally quite unified parties. It was known that Assembly members chosen by conservative parties controlled 614 seats, but because that would be only one vote more than a majority, and because that majority includes members of a center-right protest party that had held the Christian Social Union to a rare sub-majority share in the latest Bavarian election, and finally due to the secret vote, the outcome was not a sure thing. Or at least a first-round majority was by no means assured.
Also interesting is that the two main parties–the Christian Democrats (including the Bavarian Christian Social Union) and the Social Democrats–had separate presidential candidates despite sharing power in the federal “grand coalition” cabinet. Kohler’s re-election was endorsed by the Free Democratic Party, currently an opposition party, but the preferred coalition partner of the Christian Democrats, if the next election makes it possible again.