German president twisting in the wind

The presidency of Christian Wulff appears to be coming to an end. I found some of the language a little more elevated than one would expect from say discussion of the governor-gneral of Australia:

It is very difficult now to imagine how Wulff will exude the luminosity that I had hoped of him.

It does raise the question of how best to appoint and remove a ceremonial president. On the face of it comparing cases like Ireland where the president is popularly elected and Germany and Australia where the president is indirectly elected, indirect election does not always seem to work well. Since 1972 two governors-general of Australia (and 2 state governors) have been forced to leave early by public opinion. I am not aware of that happening with any Irish presidents.

9 thoughts on “German president twisting in the wind

  1. I am not sure that the examples demonstrate that direct election is better or worse. Impeachments/resignations are usually political affairs. When the political will is there, then either the president is impeached, as in Lithuania, or more usually they resign before they are pushed. (Someone called Nixon springs to mind.) The fact that the impeachment or resignation of the Irish president has never been raised is because there has never been any equivalent event. (Donegan resigned when there was no such pressure for him to do so). Imagine, though, the situation where an Irish president was discovered to have been behaving somehow egregiously. If the opposition wanted an election and the government thought that they were going to lose support at the next legislative election because of the problems with ‘their’ president, then the pressure on the president to resign might become irresistible. So, I think it’s just a matter of the politics of individual cases rather than institutions.

  2. Speaking of indirectly elected heads of state, don’t forget Israel’s Moshe Katsav. The commonality seems, IMHO, to be parliamentarians plumping for a fellow politician rather than a statesman/woman to the position.

  3. Another topic I had meant to say something about, but had not gotten around to. So, thank you, Alan.

    I did not know the Australian head of state was ever called “president”, but I am happy to defer to Alan on this one.

    Is there any research on the question raised by Alan and Robert: The ability (or inability) of politicians to rid themselves of a “ceremonial” (but fixed term) presidency when there are political advantages to doing so?

  4. > Since 1972 two governors-general of Australia (and 2 state governors) have been forced to leave early by public opinion. I am not aware of that happening with any Irish presidents”

    Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in 1976.

  5. Deference is bad practice. I did not mean to give the impression the governor-general of Australia is ever called the president. The 1999 constitutional convention here actually considered calling the new head of state the governor-general of the republic.

  6. @Michel S

    Clémenceau is supposed to have said, of indirect presidential elections, ‘I always vote for the most stupid’.

  7. Robert and Tom allude to Cearbhall O Dalaigh, but he sort of removed himself. He had a difficult relationship with the coalition of non-Fianna Fail parties forming the govt and seems to have taken the opportunity to jump.

    Interestingly O Dalaigh was not directly elected as such, since those parties in a position to nominate other candidayes on the death of the previous President agreed not to, leading to a walkover.

  8. And will be almost certainly replaced by the candidate he beat in the last election, Joachim Gauck, who has been endorsed by all parties except Die Lenk. Not the almost, since Germans don’t seem to have much luck with their Presidents lately…

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