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The President of Germany (in German, Reichspräsident) is the head of state of the German Republic. Germany operates as a semi-presidential republic, where power is divided between the president, cabinet, and parliament. The Reichspräsident was directly elected under universal adult suffrage for a seven year term, until a 1946 amendment put the term at five years, with a term to start May 6.
It was intended that the president would rule in conjunction with the Reichstag (legislature) and that his emergency powers would be exercised only in extraordinary circumstances, but in the aftermath of the second World War, the President's emergency powers were curtailed, and civil liberties can no longer be suspended in emergencies.
List of officeholders
|Took office||Left office||Party|
| 11 February 1919|
| 28 February 1925||SPD|
| 12 May 1925|
| 12 May 1932||Zentrum|
| 12 May 1932|
| 2 April 1939||SPD|
|4||Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck|
| 12 May 1932|
(elected 1932 and 1939)
| 26 April 1946||DNVP, KVP|
| 8 May 1946|
(elected 1946 and 1951)
| 16 April 1953||CDU|
| 2 May 1956|
(elected 1956 and 1961)
| 6 May 1966||SPD|
| 6 May 1966|
(elected 1966 and 1971)
| 6 May 1971||SPD|
| 6 May 1976|
| 6 May 1981||CSU|
| 6 May 1981|
(elected 1981 and 1986)
| 6 May 1986||DDP|
| 6 May 1991|
(elected 1991 and 1996)
| 6 May 2001||SDP|
| 6 May 2001|
| 6 May 2006||CDU|
| 6 May 2006|
(elected 2006 and 2011)
Under the Weimar constitution, the President was directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a term of seven years; reelection was not limited until 1946 to two terms of five years, to begin on May 6th.
The law provides that the presidency is open to all German citizens who had reached 35 years of age. The direct election of the president occurrs under a form of the two round system. If no candidate receives the support of an absolute majority of votes cast (i.e. more than half) in a first round of voting, a second vote is held at a later date, up to 14 days after the first round. In this round the candidate who received the support of a plurality of voters is deemed elected. A group could also nominate a substitute candidate in the second round, in place of the candidate it had supported in the first.
The President can not be a member of the Reichstag (parliament) at the same time. The constitution requires that on taking office the president swear the following oath (the inclusion of additional religious language was permitted):
I swear to devote my energy to the welfare of the German people, to increase its prosperity, to prevent damage, to hold up the Reich constitution and its laws, to consciously honour my duties and to exercise justice to every individual.
The first office-holder, the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert was elected by the National Assembly on 11 February 1919 on a provisional basis.
Ebert intended to stand in presidential elections in 1922 when the outcry about assassination of Walther Rathenau seemed to generate a pro-republican atmosphere. However, National Liberal politician Gustav Stresemann persuaded the other centrist parties that the situation was still too turbulent to hold elections. Hence, the Reichstag extended Ebert's term to June 30th 1925, a move that contravened the constitution's text but was passed by two-thirds of the Reichstag, the majority needed for changes or deviations from the constitution.
The first presidential election was held in 1925. After the first ballot had not resulted in a clear winner, a second ballot was held, in which Wilhelm Marx, a Centre Party member, managed to win a majority in second round voting. Marx held the Republic together during the 20s, but was defeated for reelection by Friedrich Ebert, who led the country through the turbulent Depression years, saw the reunion of Danzig to the Republic in a plebescite, along with portions of West Prussia and Silesia from Poland.
Despite his foreign policy success, Marx was defeated in reelection by Lettow-Vorbeck, a World War I hero who saw Germany through the turbulent second World War, and a restoration of both Posen, West Prussia, Memel, and Eupen-Malmedy to Germany, the Anschluß of Austria, and the cession of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany by France after a devastating war.
Lettow-Vorbeck refused to utilize his constitutional powers to rule by decree and held an election during the war, intending to show the world that Germany was strong enough and stable enough that the republic could hold elections regularly, even in war time. Lettow-Vorbeck was reelected in first round elections in a clear majority. At the end of the war, he made a speech to victorious Allied troops in Berlin:
"The German people owe a debt of gratitude to the British and American people. Our republic is young, but with our free and democratic allies, we have stood against the forces of tyranny and totalitarianism, the forces of fascism, and the forces of darkness. Our republican tradition is strong enough to stand even during a war, just as our British and American brethren. Germany learned that arrogance, pride, and absolute power lead to ruination, an unfortunate lesson which France, Italy, and Poland had to also learn the hard way. It is fitting and proper to acknowledge gratefully that the German population was saved during these harsh years of war from starvation by the Allied help in supplying food to our armed forces and civilian population. We owe you our republic, our freedom, and our thanks."
Lettow-Vorbeck was followed by Konrad Adenauer, a stern but capable leader, who chose Theodor Heuß as Chancellor for his terms in office, which were spent mainly in reconstruction and modernization of German industry, leading to the Wirtschaftswunder post-war boom. Adenauer's successor, Willy Brandt, had served as Mayor of Berlin from 1948 until his election in 1956, and from there twice as president. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet oppression in Hungary and East Poland, and sought improved relations with West Poland, which signed a treaty with Germany recognizing the post-war borders and loss of the so-called 'Polish Corridor' and released any claims on German territory.
Helmut Schmidt brought Kurt Kiesinger with him as Chancellor, who was followed by Walter Scheel after Kiesinger's resignation. The German economy stagnated in his second term, leading to the election of Franz Strauß, a more left-leaning politician, who spoke favorably of US President James Carter, and encouraged policies that led to a worsening of the German economy, and a devaluation of the German Mark.
Helmut Kohl brought a new direction, in his election calling for a "Neuer Anfang," and brought with him a number of policies which revitalized the German economy and helped seek warmer relations with France, along with a joint defense pact with the British and Americans along the German eastern border in case of Soviet attack, promising increased American-German missile placement in case of Soviet launches, which some credit as hastening the fall of the USSR.
Johannes Rau followed Kohl's footsteps in certain policies, and even brought Kohl in to help the Polish reunification process during the 1990s, and brought a reduced German military and a balanced budget for three of his ten years. Horst Köhler followed Rau and aided British and American efforts in the Middle East, which was controversial at the time due to no German national defense issues, leading to the election of the first female President of Germany, Rebecca Augenstein, in 2006, promising to withdraw German troops without any national security interest. She was forced to send troops out, however, when an Iranian national used a chemical Novichok bomb in Breslau in 2008, killing 859 people and injuring 1200. German troops, along with American and British, invaded Iran a month later, toppling the regime, exposing a nuclear program that was only 2 months from gaining a nuclear bomb. Supporting freedom movements around the country, the occupying forces removed the religious extremist movements, and banned Sharia law in the country, instituting freedom of religion and banning all forms of religious persecution. Augenstein stood for re-election in 2011, winning a clear majority in first-round elections.