Blow for Merkel as president vote goes to second round

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Chancellor Angela Merkel failed on Wednesday to get her candidate for president elected in a first round of voting in a special assembly, forcing a nail-biting second round.

The official candidate of Merkel's conservatives and her coalition partners, Christian Wulff, secured 600 votes in the 1,244-seat assembly of MPs and public figures, well short of the 623 needed for an absolute majority.

The candidate of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, Joachim Gauck, the former East German dissident and pastor, won 499 votes. Lukrezia Jochimsen from the far-left Die Linke party won 126.

There were 13 abstentions and far-right candidate Frank Rennicke secured three votes. A total of 1,241 valid votes from the assembly of MPs and public figures were cast.

A second vote was due to be held later on Wednesday following discussions among the political parties.

A victory for Gauck, though unlikely, would deal a potentially lethal blow to Merkel's government, analysts say.

The first-round result indicated that several members of Merkel's coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), voted against Wulff in the secret ballot, since her government had -- on paper -- an absolute majority in the assembly.

The score achieved by Gauck, who polls say is more popular among the public than Wulff, indicated that 39 members of the assembly who were not members of the Greens or the SPD voted for him.

Jochimsen also attracted two votes from outside Die Linke.

The vote became necessary after the previous president, Merkel ally Horst Koehler, stepped down on May 31 after coming under fire for comments he made about the role of the German military abroad.

© 2010 AFP

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