In the largely ceremonial office of president, Gauck poses no threat to Merkel’s domination of national politics, but his moral authority, independence of mind and lack of party affiliation could make him an awkward partner for her government as it struggles to overcome Europe’s economic crisis.
Gauck, 72, won 991 votes in the federal assembly comprising members of parliament and regional delegates that elects German heads of state. His main rival, veteran anti-Nazi campaigner Beate Klarsfeld, got 126 votes.
Germans hope Gauck, a prominent player in the peaceful protests that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, can restore dignity to the presidency, a post tarnished by financial scandals that toppled his predecessor Christian Wulff.
“I take up this post with the endless gratitude of a person who, after a long trek through the political desert of the 20th century, has finally and unexpectedly found his home again and was able to witness in the last 20 years the joy of shaping a democratic society,” he said after taking the oath of office.
His victory was never in doubt after all the main political parties, including Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats, threw their weight behind his candidacy.