German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said he will run for a second term next year, implicitly betting that the likely winners of the September national election will not get rid of a sitting national figure of a other party.
Steinmeier, 65, social democrat (SPD) and former foreign minister, was appointed president under the previous Conservative-SPD coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But the SPD occupies a distant third in election polls, meaning it is unlikely to play a role in Germany’s next government. If this is the case, Steinmeier would rely on a German convention of respect for sitting presidents to retain their functions.
“I would like to run for a second term as president,” he said at a press conference on Friday at Schloss Bellevue, his official residence in Berlin, adding that he wanted to help “heal the wounds” left behind. by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The German president has little power, but is usually a high-ranking politician who, once elected by the lower and upper houses of parliament, must seek to unify and set a high moral tone for the nation.
Polls suggest that the Conservatives or the Greens will dominate the Bundestag (lower house) after the election.
SPD allies backed him after the announcement, although Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder, a conservative, said any decision on who to approve would be made after the election.
While his predecessor Joachim Gauck, a Lutheran pastor, has been hailed for his bravery as a civil rights activist in former communist East Germany, other presidents have sparked controversy.
Horst Koehler resigned in 2010 after being accused of advocating “gunboat diplomacy” during a visit to troops in Afghanistan. Heinrich Luebke resigned in 1969 over allegations that he used slave labor and built concentration camps during the Nazi regime of World War II.
A pro-European, Steinmeier has been criticized for the perceived leniency towards an aggressive Russia. Earlier this year, he said Germany owed Russia to complete the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline due to the suffering inflicted by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Critics responded that much of this suffering was borne by the Soviet successor states, Ukraine and Belarus. Ukraine strongly opposes the pipeline under the Baltic Sea, which would prevent it from engaging in a lucrative gas transit business.
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