(Reuters) – Germans resoundingly elected Joachim Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor and human rights activist from communist East Germany, as president of the European Union’s largest country on Sunday, posing a potential headache for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In the largely ceremonial office of president, Gauck presents no threat to Merkel’s domination of national politics. But his moral authority, independence of mind and lack of party affiliation could make him an awkward partner for her government as it struggles to overcome Europe’s economic crisis.
Gauck, 72, won 991 votes in the federal assembly comprising members of parliament and regional delegates. His main rival, veteran anti-Nazi campaigner Beate Klarsfeld, got 126 votes.
Germans hope Gauck, a prominent player in the peaceful protests that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, can restore dignity to the presidency, tarnished by financial scandals that felled his predecessor Christian Wulff.
“I take up this post with the endless gratitude of a person who, after a long trek through the political desert of the 20th century, has finally and unexpectedly found his home again and was able to witness in the last 20 years the joy of shaping a democratic society,” he said after taking the oath of office.
His victory was never in doubt after all the main political parties, including Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats, threw their weight behind his candidacy.
Merkel played down suggestions that the feisty theologian would use his office as a pulpit to harangue Germany’s politicians or that they might clash over policy issues…
Unlike career politician Wulff, Gauck – who describes himself politically as “a left-leaning, liberal conservative” - likes to speak his mind on controversial issues, and he does so with an eloquence forged in the pulpits of East Germany…