Tomorrow is Germany’s Constitution Day, the 60th anniversary of the Constitution of the Federal Republic. On that day members of the Federal Assembly will gather in Berlin to elect the republic’s president for the next five years. The incumbent Christian Democrat Horst Köhler is seeking re-election but is being challenged by the Social Democrat Gesine Schwan.
Schwan, who celebrates her 65th birthday today, is a professor in social science and belongs to the right wing of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), where she was a distinct opponent to Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. She was also Köhler’s rival in the presidential election five years ago, which ended with 589 votes for Schwan and 604 votes for Köhler in the Federal Assembly.
The Federal Assembly is a constitutional body whose only task is to elect the country’s president. It is made up of the 612 members of the German Federal Parliament and as many delegates elected by the country’s state parliaments.
Of the 1,224 delegates to tomorrow’s sitting of the Federal Assembly the right-wing parties CDU and FDP control 497 and 107 delegates respectively. The right-wing parties SPD, Grüne and Linke have 419, 95 and 90 delegates respectively. There are also 4 right-wing extremists and 10 independent delegates. An absolute majority of at least 613 votes is necessary in the first two rounds of the election, while a simple majority is enough from the third vote.
Delegates to the Federal Assembly have been known to vote unpredictably at times, which may lead to unexpected outcomes. One example is Princess Gloria of Thurn and Taxis, who was a delegate to the Federal Assembly for the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) five years ago but nevertheless voted for Gesine Schwan rather than the party’s candidate Horst Köhler.
The weekly newspaper Die Zeit had an interview with Gesine Schwan in their issue of 14 May, which can also be read online: