Koehler re-elected as German president

BERLIN – German President Horst Koehler won a second five-year term Saturday, a victory that gave a symbolic boost to Chancellor Angela Merkel's hopes of forming a center-right government after a national election this September.

Koehler, a former International Monetary Fund head and a member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, secured the required majority by a single vote in the first round of voting by a special parliamentary assembly.

That was enough to see off a challenge from center-left Social Democrat Gesine Schwan, who was bidding to become Germany's first female president — a largely ceremonial job.

Merkel said she was "very glad" about Koehler's swift victory. "We think he is the president Germany needs in this situation," she added.

The popular 66 year old won 613 votes in the 1,224-member parliamentary assembly, made up of lower-house lawmakers and delegates nominated by state legislatures. Schwan, who had hoped to force further rounds of voting, won 503.

The presidency is supposed to be above the political fray and carries little real power, but Schwan's challenge shook up the usually genteel election process and raised doubt over Koehler's re-election.

The vote came before Merkel and Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier, her foreign minister, face off in a Sept. 27 national election in which both hope to end their tense "grand coalition" of Germany's biggest parties.

As opposition leader, Merkel installed Koehler in 2004 with the help of the pro-business Free Democrats, her preferred future coalition partner. They backed Koehler's re-election, along with a smaller center-right group.

Merkel and the Free Democrats' leader, Guido Westerwelle, appeared together to congratulate Koehler.

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