Germans distrust their leaders and are desperate for a return to “credibility,” said Joachim Gauck, the opposition candidate to be the next German president.
Gauck, 70, a democracy activist in East Germany who went on to oversee the opening up of Stasi secret-police files, is vying for the largely ceremonial presidency on June 30. While the president is chosen by a special assembly of lawmakers and state delegates rather than by direct vote, polls show the public favors Gauck over the government’s candidate, Christian Wulff.
People “have too many reasons for mistrust right now,” Gauck told reporters in Berlin today. “They have a yearning for credibility and they want to have credible people in top positions in politics, people they can trust.” Germans “need somebody who can bring back this trust.”
Gauck’s challenge adds to the pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel as her coalition struggles to overcome policy disputes and public criticism of her handling of Europe’s debt crisis that has sent her government’s popularity to historic lows.
The German coalition’s very survival could be at stake if Merkel’s candidate Wulff, the 51-year-old prime minister of the western state of Lower Saxony and a deputy leader of her party, fails to win, said Ulrich Deupmann, director of Ideas.ag, a Berlin-based political advisory company.
“Those who vote for Gauck know that they’re putting the government at risk of collapse,” Deupmann said in an interview. “With every round the election goes on, Merkel loses authority.” If neither Gauck nor Wulff wins a majority in the first round of voting, the ballot will be repeated until there’s an outright winner.
Gauck, who was nominated by the opposition Social Democrats and the Green Party, has won praise from newspapers including Die Welt and news magazine Der Spiegel. Even Merkel said Gauck is an “outstanding personality,” Bild newspaper cited her as saying in an interview published June 12.
He enters the race as public approval of Merkel’s coalition remains at its lowest in 3 1/2 years. Combined support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc and her Free Democratic Party coalition partner held at 37 percent for the third consecutive week in a Forsa poll today, more than 11 points lower than in September’s election when Merkel won a second term.
In a separate poll, 92 percent of 533 senior business and government executives said they’re disappointed in her government; just 6 percent said they’re satisfied. Forty-nine percent said Merkel is a weak head of government, up 27 percent from December and her worst rating since she took office in November 2005, the Allensbach poll published in Capital magazine showed yesterday.
Merkel’s flip-flop on extending aid to Greece was blamed by politicians for a regional election loss last month that cost her control of the upper house of parliament. The upheaval deepened with the May 31 resignation of President Horst Koehler, a Christian Democrat, citing a lack of respect for his office. Criticism of 80 billion euros of budget cuts announced June 7 led newspapers to speculate that the ruling coalition was close to breaking up.
Even so, Merkel should be able to rely on a majority in the special assembly to elect her candidate for the presidency.
“Wulff is the right candidate,” Michael Meister, the finance spokesman in parliament for Merkel’s party, said in an interview. “I assume that he will be elected, and I hope in the first ballot.”