Former Foreign Minister and presidential candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier is set to be elected as Germany’s new ceremonial head of state on Sunday.
As president, the 61-year-old, who regularly polls as Germany’s most popular politician, will represent the country abroad and act as a kind of moral arbiter for the nation.
For the Social Democrats (SPD), his appointment raises the party’s profile just as its candidate Martin Schulz, the former European parliament president, readies to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in September elections.
Steinmeier is expected to receive a large majority of votes after Merkel’s conservative coalition CDU/CSU agreed to back him to replace incumbent Joachim Gauck, 77, who is not seeking a second term.
The vote will be held in Berlin’s Reichstag building by a 1,260-member special Federal Assembly, made up of national lawmakers and parliamentarians from the country’s 16 states.
With his snow white hair, round glasses and dimpled smile, Steinmeier is one of Germany’s best known politicians, having twice served as foreign minister under Merkel for a total of seven years. In 2009, Steinmeier ran against Merkel and lost badly, only to return years later to serve in her cabinet.
As Steinmeier has prepared for the new post, which he assumes on 19 March, he has vowed to “be something of a counterweight to the trend of boundless simplification”, calling this approach “the best antidote to the populists”.
Germany elects a president every five years and holders of the largely ceremonial position can serve for two terms.