German presidential candidate Joachim Gauck and his partner Daniela Schadt

German lawmakers elected Joachim Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor and human rights activist from communist East Germany, as president of the European Union’s largest country on Sunday by a large majority in a first round of voting.

Norbert Lammert, speaker of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, said Gauck, 72, had won 991 votes in the federal assembly of national and regional lawmakers that is charged with choosing Germany’s largely ceremonial head of state.

His main rival, former Nazi-hunter and journalist Beate Klarsfeld, won 126 votes.

Germans expect Gauck, a prominent member of the peaceful protest movement that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, to restore dignity to the presidency, tarnished by financial scandals that felled his predecessor Christian Wulff.