Merkel faces challenge that could end career
Angela Merkel is facing a critical presidential contest next week that could end her political career after a Protestant pastor, nominated by the opposition, became favourite to win a vote widely seen as a challenge to her leadership.
Joachim Gauck (70), an anti-communist activist under East Germany's former dictatorship, is a popular figure even among the chancellor's Christian Democrat and Liberal coalition government.
The self-styled independent has described himself as a "leftist, liberal conservative". He is backed by the Social Democrats and Greens, but has won wider support as a national figure in an anxious Germany.
Ms Merkel's candidate is Christian Wulff (51), a centre-right politician.
Defeat for him is expected to lead to the collapse of Ms Merkel's government. (© Daily Telegraph, London)