Flowers, twitter, brass band shake up German election
Traditionally, the election of the German president is a dignified and strictly choreographed event. More than 1,200 parliamentarians and state representatives come together in Berlin’s Reichstag building, they cast a secret vote underneath the assembly’s giant symbolic eagle, the parliament’s president announces the result, and everybody sings the national anthem. But Saturday’s re-election of conservative Horst Koehler has sparked a lively debate about whether several parliamentarians, the early appearance of an orchestra and a series of flower bouquets gave the results away too early.
“People. You can watch the soccer in peace. The election round has worked,” conservative MP Julia Kloeckner wrote on Twitter, 10 minutes before parliamentary president Norbert Lammert announced that Koehler had scored a one vote victory and defeated the Social Democrat (SPD) candidate Gesine Schwan. Kloeckner’s SPD colleague Ulrich Kelber even announced the results on Twitter three minutes earlier — including the exact vote count. Germany’s president has largely representational functions, but Saturday’s election was seen as a test of party discipline for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives four months ahead of a federal election. Merkel’s allies only held a one seat majority in the special election assembly, and Koehler’s failure to secure a majority in the first round would have triggered a second vote.
That prospect seemed impossible to many observers, however, when musicians and staff with flower bouquets had already entered the assembly before Lammert announced the result. Bild daily called Koehler’s election the “Twitter-flower bouquet-brass band affair”. “It’s undignified for musicians and ushers to take away the result of the presidential election in advance,” SPD parliamentarian Christian Lange told the daily Die Welt. SPD deputy Sebastian Edathy called on Lammert to apologise for the organisational problems. The twittering Kloeckner said she was sorry she had sent her online message, telling Bild: “The timing was a bit early, even though the pictures told their own story.”
Merkel however shrugged off the incident, saying apparently television viewers had been able to see more of what was going on in the assembly than she had. “I just sat in my seat and waited (for the results),” she said. Horst Seehofer from Merkel’s Bavarian CSU sister party took an even lighter stance on the event, signalling it might help revise some prejudices people held against his countrymen. “It’s OK for Germans not to be perfect in everything. It’s OK to be human sometimes,” he said.