Berlin – German lawmakers elected Frank-Walter Steinmeier by an overwhelming majority on Sunday to be the country’s new president.
Steinmeier, Germany’s former foreign minister, was elected by a special assembly that was made up of the 630 members of parliament’s lower house and an equal number of representatives from Germany’s 16 states.
He received 931 of the 1 260 votes. Steinmeier succeeds Joachim Gauck, a 77-year-old former pastor and East German pro-democracy activist who did not seek a second five-year term because of his age.
The German president has little executive power, but is considered an important moral authority and symbol of the country as its host for visiting dignitaries.
“Let’s be brave, because then we don’t have to be afraid of the future,” Steinmeier said in his acceptance speech.
He said the world faces “rough times,” but that Germany, as a functioning democracy, had the responsibility to fight for stability.
“Isn’t it actually wonderful, that this Germany, our difficult fatherland, that this country has become an anchor of hope in the world for many,” after overcoming wars and totalitarianism, Steinmeier said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Steinmeier and said she was convinced he would be an excellent president who would have the support of the vast majority of the people.
“This is a good day for Germany,” Merkel said.
Steinmeier, a 61-year-old Social Democrat, had the backing in the election of Merkel’s “grand coalition” of centre-right and centre-left parties.
The presidential vote was likely one of the last moments of coalition unity ahead of a parliamentary election in September in which Merkel is seeking a fourth term. Both sides hope to end the “grand coalition.”