Germans want opposition president in blow to Merkel

* Big embarrassment for Merkel if her candidate loses

* Unpopular and angry, FDP allies threaten rebellion

BERLIN, June 9 (BestGrowthStock) – German voters prefer the
opposition’s candidate for president — an anti-communist
activist from East Germany — to Angela Merkel’s choice, a poll
showed on Wednesday, dealing a fresh blow to the chancellor.

The Forsa survey showed Joachim Gauck, proposed for the
largely ceremonial post by the Social Democrats (SPD) and
Greens, won the support of 42 percent of Germans asked, compared
with 32 percent for conservative Christian Wulff.

A special assembly, made up of lawmakers from the Bundestag
lower house and an equal number of delegates appointed by
Germany’s 16 states, will elect a new president on June 30 after
last week’s shock resignation of Horst Koehler. He quit after he
was criticised for saying foreign military action by the German
army also served economic interests. [ID:nLDE64U1MF]

The vote is shaping up as a big test for Merkel who has been
dogged by falling popularity, policy spats in her centre-right
coalition and accusations of weak leadership both domestically
and within the euro zone during the global debt crisis.

A failure by Merkel to push through Wulff, the 50-year-old
smooth-talking conservative premier of the state of Lower
Saxony, would be widely viewed as a major defeat for her.

Merkel’s coalition of conservatives and the pro-business
Free Democrats (FDP) have a majority in the assembly but victory
is not certain, especially in view of the public and media mood.

Der Spiegel weekly and top-selling Bild am Sonntag back
Gauck, a former Protestant pastor who played an important role
in the democracy movement in the communist East. After
reunification he won respect when, as head of the archives of
the loathed Stasi East German secret police, he oversaw the
release of files to victims.

One problem for Merkel is that the assembly delegates chosen
by German states are unpredictable as they are not formally
aligned to parties.

In addition, some FDP members from eastern German states
have said they will not necessarily back Wulff, even though the
FDP leadership has given him its blessing.

This is partly a result of growing anger in FDP ranks at the
behaviour of Merkel’s conservatives.

Last month Merkel unceremoniously ditched tax cuts her party
had agreed with the FDP in a coalition deal signed just six
months earlier. The FDP had fought the election on tax cuts.

She also let the Bavarian conservative Christian Social
Union (CSU) torpedo her FDP health minister’s plans for a major
health reform last week.

Since then, a war of words has erupted with an FDP lawmaker
likening the CSU to a destructive “wild sow” only for a senior
CSU politician to accuse the FDP of being a “bunch of clowns”.

The Forsa poll also showed support for the FDP slumping to 5
percent, down 2 percentage points from the last poll and nearly
10 percentage points since September’s election.

It also for the first time put Merkel behind charismatic
Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg in personal ratings.

The debate over the president has reflected badly on Merkel.

Not only has strong support for Gauck raised questions about
her judgement in proposing a career politician like Wulff but
she also faces attack for playing a part in Koehler’s departure.

Critics say her failure to defend him from media criticism
contributed to his decision to quit, especially as he had been
Merkel’s personal choice for president back in 2004.

Media have also reported that Wulff’s nomination was a blow
to Merkel whose first choice, Labour Minister Ursula von der
Leyen, was blocked by conservative state premiers.

Stock Market Basics
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Matthew Jones)

Germans want opposition president in blow to Merkel