Frank-Walter Steinmeier elected to second term as German president

Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected for a second term as Germany’s president on Sunday.

The incumbent won 77% support at the Bundesversammlung (Federal Convention) in Berlin.

The session consisted of the members of Germany’s Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, along with an equal number of delegates chosen by the country’s 16 states.

Watch video 05:38 Steinmeier re-elected with large majority: DW’s Melinda Crane and Nina Haase

What did Steinmeier say after reelection?

In accepting a second five-year term, Steinmeier said he is on the side of everyone promoting democracy and warned about the prospect of war if Russia invades Ukraine.

“We are in the midst of the danger of a military conflict, a war in eastern Europe,” Steinmeier told the convention, adding that “Russia bears responsibility for this.”

“I appeal to [Russian] President Putin: Loosen the noose around Ukraine’s neck and seek with us a path that preserves peace in Europe,” he added.

Watch video 00:50 Steinmeier: ‘We cannot take peace for granted’

Steinmeier also refused to avoid confrontation with radical opponents of the government’s COVID-19 response, in a reference to the Querdenker (lateral thinker) movement that has spread lies and conspiracy theories.

“To those who tear open wounds, who spread hatred and lies in the distress of the pandemic, who talk of a ‘Corona dictatorship’ and who make threats and violence against policewomen, nurses and mayors, to them I say: ‘I’m here, I’m staying,'” the president said.

But he also conceded that the pandemic has “inflicted deep wounds in our society” and mistakes have been made. “But, ladies and gentlemen, show me an authoritarian system that would have been would have come through this crisis better.”

The decisive breakthrough in the fight against COVID was the rapid vaccine development achieved by Germany with partners in Europe and the United States, Steinmeier said.

“For all the self-criticism that is necessary, we should not hide our light under a bushel.”

Watch video 02:34 A look back at Steinmeier’s first term as German president

Who were the candidates?

President Steinmeier, 66, a Social Democrat who served two stints as former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s foreign minister and before was chief of staff to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, is well-liked among the German public. A recent opinion poll indicated that 85% of people in Germany thought he was doing a good job, and he enjoys the support of the ruling coalition and the mainstream conservative opposition parties.

The three other candidates were left-winger Gerhard Trabert, 65, who ran for the opposition Left Party, physicist Stefanie Gebauer, 41, who was nominated by a political group called the Free Voters, and Max Otte, 57, an archconservative economist chosen by the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The latter choice made waves in the German political scene, as Otte is not a member of the AfD and remains a part of the mainstream Christian Democrats (CDU). The leaders of CDU have vowed to cancel his membership.

Watch video 04:08 What does the German president do?

How did voting take place?

The Federal Convention did not meet in the Reichstag as usual, owing to pandemic regulations requiring the voters to remain 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart.

Instead, the vote took place in the neighboring Paul Löbe House, with delegates spread over several rooms and floors.

The vote was cast by secret ballot, with delegates called to the voting booths in alphabetical order.

Out of 1,437 total votes, Steinmeier received 1045. Otte garnered 140 voters, Trabet received 96, and Gebauer got 58.

Germany’s postwar presidents Frank-Walter Steinmeier (2017-current) Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister and chancellor candidate for the Social Democrats (SPD), was supported in his first election by the grand coalition of his party and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Germany’s postwar presidents Joachim Gauck (2012-2017) A former Lutheran pastor, Gauck came to prominence as an anti-communist civil rights activist in East Germany. A political independent, after German reunification he was in charge of the archives of East Germany’s Stasi secret service and tasked with investigating communist crimes. As son of a Soviet Gulag survivor, his political life was formed by his own family’s experiences with totalitarianism

Germany’s postwar presidents Christian Wulff (2010-2012) Christian Wulf (CDU) was Germany’s youngest president to date. He is remembered for a high-profile speech he delivered in which he said that Islam “belongs to Germany” just as do Christianity and Judaism. The former State Premier of Lower Saxony stepped down in the face of corruption allegations, of which he was subsequently cleared.

Germany’s postwar presidents Horst Köhler (2004 – 2010) A trained economist, Horst Köhler served as president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before becoming German president. He stepped down over backlash against comments he made about Bundeswehr missions abroad, which he acknowledged also served to secure trade with Germany’s partners.

Germany’s postwar presidents Johannes Rau (1999 – 2004) Johannes Rau (SPD) served as premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, for ten years. As president, in times of heated political discussion, he urged the nation to open up to foreigners. “I want to be the president for all Germans and the partner for all people who live and work here without a German passport,” he said.

Germany’s postwar presidents Roman Herzog (1994 – 1999) The former Supreme Court judge is best known for a speech in 1997 demanding Germans pull themselves together and break the vicious circle of resignation, reform blockade. He is also remembered for asking Poland for forgiveness for the suffering inflicted by Germany in WW2, and declared the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, as Germany’s official day of remembrance.

Germany’s postwar presidents Richard von Weizsäcker (1984 – 1994) In 1985 the CDU politician articulated Germany’s responsibility for the crimes of Nazism. He defined May 8 as a “day of liberation” and challenged the idea that many Germans did not know about the Holocaust. “We Germans must look truth straight in the eye – without embellishment and without distortion. […] There can be no reconciliation without remembrance,” he said.

Germany’s postwar presidents Karl Carstens (1979 – 1984) Karl Carstens (CDU) was born in Bremen, the son of a commercial school teacher, who had been killed before his birth in WWI. Carstens studied law and political science and served in the air force during WWII. In 1940 he joined the Nazi Party, which made him a controversial choice for president. During his term in office he used his love of hiking to tour the country and meet the people.

Germany’s postwar presidents Walter Scheel (1974-1979) Scheel was born in Solingen, the son of a handyman. He trained at a bank before he was conscribed by Hitler’s Wehrmacht in 1939. After the war, Scheel worked as an economic consultant and joined the neoliberal FDP, which he moved towards an alliance with the SPD. Scheel was seen as jovial and is remembered for landing a hit with his recording of the German folk song “Hoch auf dem gelben Wagen.”

Germany’s postwar presidents Gustav Heinemann (1969 -1974) Gustav Walter Heinemann (SPD) served as mayor of Essen, as well as interior and later justice minister before becoming president. He established the tradition of inviting ordinary citizens to the president’s New Year’s receptions, and in his speeches, he encouraged West Germans to overcome submissiveness to the authorities, to make full use of their democratic rights and to defend the rule of law.

Germany’s postwar presidents Heinrich Lübke (1959 – 1969) Heinrich Lübke (CDU) is remembered for a series of embarrassing lapses that may have resulted from health issues. Lübke resigned three months before the scheduled end of his second term amid a scandal around his involvement with the Nazi regime during World War II.

Germany’s postwar presidents Theodor Heuss (1949-1959) The liberal Theodor Heuss (FDP) beat Social Democrat leader Kurt Schumacher to become West Germany’s first postwar president. Before becoming a politician he was a political journalist. West Germans widely appreciated Heuss for his cordial nature. Author: Rina Goldenberg

There were 86 abstentions and 12 votes were invalid.

What does Germany’s president do?

While German presidents have little executive power, they aspire to be moral authorities above daily politics.

Anyone holding the office signs bills into law and represents Germany in various ceremonies both inside and outside the country.

During Steinmeier’s first term in office, he championed liberal democracy in Germany and abroad and urged dialogue on sensitive issues. Recently, that included plans for compulsory vaccination against the coronavirus.

mm,tj/sms (dpa, AP)