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Is Merkel's 'dream team' coalition coming apart?

By Diana Magnay, CNN Correspondent
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Germany has a new president
  • German presidential vote highlights discontent with Angela Merkel's leadership
  • Merkel's choice, Christian Wulff, only elected in third round of voting
  • Vote suggests growing rift between Merkel and her coalition partners

Berlin, Germany (CNN) -- In a last-ditch attempt to win over rebels in her own coalition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told delegates halfway through Wednesday's torturous round of voting for a new German president that they had "had the Serbia game and now it's time for the England game."

At the World Cup in South Africa, Germany's national team had bounced back from a shock defeat by Serbia to beat England over the weekend and claim a place in the quarterfinals.

Merkel's preferred candidate, Christian Wulff, did eventually secure the requisite backing of lawmakers in the Reichstag but, unlike the nation's footballers, Merkel did not walk away crowned in glory.

Wulff, the state premiere of Lower Saxony for the last seven years and one of Merkel's biggest rivals within the Christian Democrats, is now German President.

The role is largely ceremonial and, from his new Schloss Bellevue residence in Berlin, Wulff should pose less of a threat to Merkel than he could have done from his former regional powerbase in Hannover.

Even so, says Gero Neugebauer, a political analyst at Berlin's Free University, Wulff could still pose problems for Merkel.

"He could still harm her as president if he starts to preach conservative values, if he is seen as contradicting her on policy," Neugebauer told CNN.

In his acceptance speech, Wulff said he wanted to contribute to the "internal unity of our country and better mutual trust."

But the process of his election says a great deal about the lack of unity between Merkel's Christian Democrats and its coalition partners -- Bavaria's Christian Social Union and the liberal Free Democrats -- as well as dissatisfaction with Merkel's leadership.

Wulff gained 600 votes in the first round of voting and 615 in the second -- both times short of the 623 vote absolute majority he needed.

Given the fact the black-yellow ruling coalition has 644 votes in the German federal assembly, there was a clear contingent of mutinous members who wanted to demonstrate their opposition to Merkel.

That Wulff finally got the votes he needed in round three shows less that Merkel can discipline her coalition than that her partners realized they have too much to lose if the coalition fails.

But Germany's ruling coalition is fragile.

''Those who wanted this election to give a new start for the coalition didn't get it," says Heinrich Oberreuter from the Academy for Civic Education in Tutzing. "The bickering will continue, they won't be able to develop any clear strategy and there is a possibility that this coalition won't last out its legislative term."

Merkel's Christian Democrats and Guido Westerwelle's Free Democrats were billed as the dream team after last year's elections. It hasn't turned out that way with the political partners failing to agree on key issues such as health and tax reform.

With the summer recess starting next week, Merkel must be hoping the infighting burns itself out. But after Wednesday's results, that may be wishful thinking.