BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handpicked presidential candidate limped to victory after three rounds of voting by a special assembly yesterday, a weak showing that deeply damaged Merkel’s political fortunes.
What should have been a rubber-stamp victory for the candidate, Christian Wulff, instead turned into a daylong battle as rebels in the governing parties took advantage of the secret ballot to vent their frustrations with the chancellor.
As bad as it was for Merkel, it could have been much worse. Ahead of the vote, analysts said that an upset victory by the main opposition candidate, Joachim Gauck, a former East German dissident and Protestant pastor, would deal such a blow to Merkel’s leadership that it might set in motion a crisis that would end her reign as chancellor.
Merkel’s inability to take advantage of a clear majority in the special assembly reinforced the impression in political circles and the German news media that she was losing her grip on her increasingly fractious coalition less than a year after winning a second term.
In the third round of voting, Wulff won 625 of 1,244 votes in the assembly that chooses the president, a largely ceremonial figure. Merkel’s bloc brought 644 votes to the assembly, but the tally was still enough to make Wulff the 10th president in Germany’s post-World War II federal republic.
Asked by a reporter what had happened to the missing votes from her coalition, Merkel answered only, “What counts is that we have a new president.’’
Just how severe the damage was to Merkel’s fortunes was not immediately clear. In an editorial, the daily newspaper General-Anzeiger called the presidential election the last warning for the government “to finally bring the quarrels and skirmishes of recent months to an end.’’