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Köhler quits

Germany’s president resigns after ill-chosen remarks about the war in Afghanistan

THE powers of the German president are more symbolic than real, but Horst Kohler’s sudden resignation from the job on Monday May 31st was nonetheless a bombshell. He quit days after critics accused him of violating the spirit of the constitution in remarks he made about German military operations abroad. His accusers “flouted the necessary respect for my office,” said a tearful Mr Kohler. His premature departure, the first by a post-war president well before the end of his term, piles additional pressure on the coalition government led by Angela Merkel, which is already beleaguered by sagging popular support and the crisis in the euro area. How she proceeds in the search for a successor will say much about how she means to manage Germany during the coalition’s three remaining years in office.

Mr Kohler, a former director of the International Monetary Fund, had been floundering for some time. As a non-politician he lacked influence in Berlin’s backrooms. Earlier presidents had made their mark by rising to historical occasions with ringing oratory. Despite his financial expertise Mr Kohler struggled to find his voice during the economic crisis. The markets had become a “monster,” he told a magazine in May. Hurled sporadically his thunderbolts fizzled. Recently, the press has been giving more coverage to infighting and resignations among his aides than to anything Mr Kohler has had to say. He remained popular but his prestige was ebbing. …

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