German President Backed By Polls, Merkel

Published January 6, 2012 2:54PM (EST)

BERLIN (AP) — A narrow majority of Germans believe the country's embattled president should keep his job, according to two new polls, and Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled Friday that she still backs the man she helped install.

President Christian Wulff, Merkel's candidate for the largely ceremonial job in 2010, is under intense pressure over a private loan he received from a wealthy businessman's wife and an angry call he made to a newspaper editor before it published a story about it.

Wulff said this week the call was a "serious mistake" but has traded blows with Bild, Germany's biggest-selling newspaper, over whether he actually tried to prevent the report. He says he only sought a delay to get the facts right — but now doesn't want Bild to publish the transcript.

A poll of 1,000 people conducted Thursday for ARD television showed respondents saying by a 56 percent to 41 margin that Wulff should stay in office. A separate survey of 1,108 people for ZDF television, also conducted Thursday, said 50 percent thought Wulff should say and 43 that he should go. ARD gave a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 points; ZDF didn't give a margin of error.

The chancellor proposed Wulff — a former state governor and deputy leader of her conservative party — for the post after his predecessor quit abruptly.

Germany's opposition has attacked Merkel over the scandal, with the center-left Social Democrats' leader, Sigmar Gabriel, declaring this week "this is no longer a Wulff case, it's a Merkel case."

But Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, made clear Friday the chancellor stands by her man.

"The chancellor has great esteem for Christian Wulff as a person and for Christian Wulff as president," he said, adding that Wulff had taken the "right step" by going on television to defend himself Wednesday.

A Wulff resignation would be politically awkward for Merkel as she grapples with the European debt crisis. A special parliamentary assembly would have to elect a successor within 30 days. Merkel's infighting-prone center-right coalition would have only a wafer-thin majority, meaning she likely would have to seek a consensus candidate with the opposition.

Merkel's governing coalition of her conservative Christian Democrats and the struggling pro-market Free Democrats already faces a difficult test in a regional election in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein in May.

Merkel's party is trying to avoid a second tricky state election after it pulled the plug Friday on a troubled coalition in the western state of Saarland. That was an uneasy combination of the two national governing parties and the left-leaning Greens.

Christian Democrat governor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer blamed infighting in the Free Democrats' local branch. She said she would seek a new local coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, but it wasn't immediately clear whether she would succeed.

By Salon Staff

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