When asked about their preferred republican system, Australian republicans sometimes claim the German model could be suitable for this country. It is doubtful they know, what they are talking about, since are usually ignorant of the German republic’s structure. They should have a proper look, especially one day after the German president Horst Köhler announced his resignation with a bang.
In a televised press conference he took just about everybody by surprise, when he announced: "I am resigning my post as federal president with immediate effect." Mr. Köhler's resignation caught Germany's political parties completely off guard. Chancellor Angela Merkel was reportedly only informed of the decision two hours before the public announcement.
Merkel’s question: president or football?
Deutsche Welle illustrated the dramatic situation by telling its audience: “After she was informed of his decision, Merkel cancelled a planned afternoon visit to the training camp of the German national soccer team.” Well, this must be a real political crisis if she had to cancel a photo shooting opportunity with footballers.
In the past few days, Köhler had been under fire for saying that a country like Germany, which was heavily reliant on foreign trade must know that military interventions could be necessary to uphold German interests. He said that for an export-orientated country like Germany, it was sometimes necessary to deploy troops "to protect our interests... for example free trade routes".
After a public uproar, Köhler tried the usual politicians excuse and said his comments were "misunderstood" and that his remarks were not meant to refer to the mission in Afghanistan, where Germany has 4,500 troops in a NATO-led force fighting a Taliban-led insurgency.
A former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, Köhler was elected to the post of president in 2004 and re-elected in 2009 – each time with only one vote more than the required constitutional majority.
Despite his slim margin Köhler tried to re-interpret the German constitution and act as a “political president” instead of restricting himself to ceremonial duties.
Little sympathy for Hotte
The German media received the news of Köhler’s resignation with little sympathy.
This is how the Munich daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung began its editorial:
„The 67 year old resigned, because he felt insulted and refused to face the public debate on his statements on Afghanistan. This discloses: The wooden Köhler did always try – and was not up to the job. ... The proof are two decisive sentences of his resignation speech: 'The criticism lacks any justification. It lets miss the necessary respect for my office.‘ That is, with due respect, nonsense. The fact that one is one of Germany‘s highest representative, relieve his speeches and deeds not of agreeing or disagreeing interest.” (Der 67-Jährige tritt ab, weil er beleidigt ist und sich der öffentlichen Debatte über seine Afghanistan-Äußerungen nicht stellen will. Dies offenbart: Der hölzerne Köhler war stets bemüht - und überfordert ... Der Beweis dafür sind zwei entscheidende Sätze aus seiner Rücktrittserklärung: 'Diese Kritik entbehrt jeder Rechtfertigung. Sie lässt den notwendigen Respekt für mein Amt vermissen.' Das ist, mit Verlaub, Unsinn. Die Tatsache, dass einer Deutschlands höchster Repräsentant ist, enthebt seine Reden und Taten nicht der zustimmenden oder ablehnenden Anteilnahme.")Köhler claimed to be exempt from critcism, but was openly criticising everything and everyone. In his opinion the office of the German president should be beyond criticism, something neither the Queen nor any other Constitutional Monarch would expect.
The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung opened its editorial with a heavy blow against the ex-president:
“A presidency without highlights came to an end with a thunder. (Eine Präsidentschaft ohne Höhepunkte endet mit einem Donnerschlag.)" And further on: "With his emotional resignation he definitively became a tragic figure. (Mit seinem Rücktritt im Affekt wurde er endgültig zur tragischen Figur.)"Shortly after his re-election he was termed a "lame duck“ and what was more significant: Within a short time important collaborators left the Bellevue Palace in Berlin. When he gave the crucial radio interview, that became the trigger to his resignation, he had no press secretary, because the previous one had left him all of a sudden and in disagreement and the new one hadn’t yet arrived.
Germany's federal president is elected by secret ballot in a Federal Convention (consisting of all members of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, and a corresponding number of representatives from the federal states), without a prior debate, and requires an absolute majority. In case none of the candidates achieve an absolute majority in the first two rounds, then the candidate who receives a simple majority in a third round of voting is considered elected.
Should anyone dream of an non-political president or one that acts above party lines, the German example should teach them a lesson. No matter how they get into their presidential palaces, they cannot shed their past. They remain politicians and act like politicians. Mr. Köhler is the best example for this thesis.