Joachim Gauck elected new German president
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Last Updated: Sunday, March 18, 2012, 22:50
  
Berlin: Activist pastor Joachim Gauck was elected German president by an overwhelming majority today, marking the first time a candidate from the former communist east will be head of state.

Gauck, 72, claimed 991 votes out of 1,232 from a special assembly of MPs and other dignitaries, parliamentary speaker Norbert Lammert said, against prominent Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld, 73, who was nominated as a protest candidate by the far-left party Die Linke.

"What a beautiful Sunday," Gauck said to enthusiastic applause from the chamber of the glass-domed Reichstag parliament building in central Berlin after the vote.

It was the third presidential election in three years for Germany after the abrupt resignations of Gauck's two predecessors.

Gauck helped drive the peaceful revolution that brought down communist East Germany and later fought to ensure that the public would be granted access to the vast stash of files left behind by the despised Stasi secret police after reunification in 1990.

He oversaw the archive for the next decade. In a short acceptance speech, he noted that his election fell on the 22nd anniversary of the first free elections in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous November.

"After 26 years of dictatorship we were finally able to become citizens," he said. "I knew then that I would never miss another election."

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also grew up under communism, gave her backing to the plain-spoken Lutheran pastor in February after then president Christian Wulff stepped down amid a flurry of corruption allegations dating from his time as a state premier.

Wulff only served 20 months of his five-year term in office.

He had replaced Horst Koehler, a former head of the International Monetary Fund who bowed out after an uproar over comments he made appearing to justify using the military to serve Germany's economic interests.

Claudia Roth, co-leader of the opposition Greens party, which supported Gauck's candidacy along with the rest of Germany's mainstream parties, said the country was looking to Gauck to "give this badly damaged office dignity and respect again".

A poll for ARD public television released yesterday indicated that 80 percent of respondents consider him to be trustworthy.

The media and the public cheered his candidacy as an opportunity to remove some of the tarnish from the largely ceremonial office which serves as a kind of moral compass for the nation.

PTI


First Published: Sunday, March 18, 2012, 08:58


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