- (Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter)
Germany's government has joined with two major opposition parties to nominate Protestant pastor and human rights activist Joachim Gauck as the country's next president.
Born in East Germany, Gauck began working as a Protestant pastor when he was turned down for a job as a journalist because he was not a Communist. Since the East German government took a heavily anti-religious stance, Gauck was frequently harassed or his beliefs by the Stasi secret police. In 1989, Gauck was elected to the People's Chamber of the GDR, and he served for one day in the Bundestag after the reunification, making him the shortest serving member of Germany's parliament. He left his post to investigate communist crimes as head of the Stasi archives.
Gauck previously ran for the presidency in 2010, when he was nominated by the opposition SPD and Green parties. His bid was unsuccessful, with the post instead going to Prime Minister Angela Merkel's handpicked candidate, Christian Wulff. With Wulff embroiled in a corruption investigation, he submitted his resignation on Friday, leaving the post open for Gauck's nomination.
Although Gauck has earned the support of both the government and opposition this time around, making his election to the post all but a formality, the nomination was not a smooth process. Because of the tumultuous 2010 election, where Merkel campaigned very hard against Gauck, the Prime Minister was not inclined to support Gauck and effectively admit she was wrong two years ago.
The president holds no power over policy in Germany's parliamentary democracy, but he is responsible for making speeches and giving moral guidance on political issues.
Part of Merkel's opposition to Gauck may have been his strong moral standing as a former pastor and protestor of the communist regime, as well as his reputation as a maverick. According to Heribert Prantl of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, "Joachim Gauck is a skilful and committed man, his strength is his preacher-like emotionalism, the thematic scope of which is, however, very limited. He is not a straightforward candidate, his thoughts and words and sometimes even his actions are guided by emotions. As president he will be difficult to predict, he will irritate people."
Gauck's nomination has received widespread support from both the German public and the media, with some even calling him Germany's answer to Nelson Mandela. According to Mathias Doepfner of the German newspaper Bild, "Which qualities does a good president need? Above all, he must master the only instrument he is allowed to play: the spoken word, the art of making speeches. He should have a clear system of values and defend it courageously, and ideally his biography should make him a figure who integrates East and West and Germans of all religions and different life stories. Gauck represents all that personally and politically."