It is an undoubted setback for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her candidate for the presidency, Christian Wulff, may have won – but he failed to get elected by the Federal Assembly in either of the first two rounds. This despite the ruling centre-right coalition’s absolute majority in power.
It is being seen as a warning from the Chancellor’s own camp. It comes at a time when she is already under severe pressure: her government’s austerity measures are unpopular, as is the burden Germany faces in bailing out other debt-ridden countries in the eurozone. Merkel’s cabinet is riven by infighting, and in May she lost her majority in the upper parliamentary chamber the Bundesrat after a regional election.
The first round vote indicated that more than 40 delegates from the Chancellor’s camp either voted against Christian Wulff or abstained. It is thought that many reproach Merkel for her leadership style, believing she was simply trying to neuter one of her Christian Democrat rivals by proposing him for presidency.
The Lower Saxony state governor is also much less popular than the star of the centre-left Joachim Gauck.
It was amid such discord that Angela Merkel went into battle in this election, side by side with her liberal coalition partner Guido Westerwelle.
For the vice-chancellor and German foreign minister, things are even bleaker. A new opinion poll points to a collapse in the vote for his Free Democrats since last autumn’s elections.
But all eyes will now be on the Chancellor to see how she deals with the aftermath of Wulff’s hardly resounding victory.
Prompted by the surprise resignation of the former president Horst Koehler a month ago, Angela Merkel could have done without this new test.
Her choice for head of state becomes the youngest president in the history of the Federal Republic. But the lukewarm backing he achieved in a laborious process has dealt his principal supporter a major blow.