Guido Westerwelle has tried to shake off his reputation as a joker
Guido Westerwelle has shot into the front line of European politics after his party scored a resounding success in German elections.
The 47-year-old leader of the liberal Free Democrat Party (FDP) will now sit down with Chancellor Angela Merkel and discuss terms for a new ruling coalition.
One of those terms will probably be Mr Westerwelle's promotion to foreign minister.
He has tried to engage in what he calls "Spasspolitik" (fun politics).
For some this has been a breath of fresh air in the stuffy world of German politics, and has helped broaden the appeal of the FDP, especially among younger voters.
But in some cases it has backfired, landing him with a reputation as a joker.
His antics have included appearing in Germany's Big Brother house and painting the figure 18 on the soles of his shoes (the vote percentage he targeted in the 2005 election).
Mr Westerwelle has broken new ground in becoming the first openly gay leader of a major German party.
He came out publicly in 2004, at Angela Merkel's 50th birthday party, when he attended with his partner, businessman Michael Mronz.
'Older and wiser'
He is a trained lawyer and is respected for his debating skills.
His market-friendly party is committed to cutting taxes, welfare payments and the size of government.
Westerwelle celebrated the election result with his partner Michael Mronz
It also wants the US to remove nuclear warheads stationed on German soil, wants to reverse Germany's rollback of nuclear power and is against punitive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Westerwelle insists he is ready for government and has put his clowning behind him.
"Of course I made some mistakes when I was young but one grows older and wiser," he told AFP news agency earlier this year.
After his party's electoral success on Sunday, he acknowledged: "We know that above all this means responsibility."
But, he told cheering supporters: "We are ready to take up the challenge of government."
Asked whether his homosexuality might be a disadvantage if dealing with some countries as foreign minister, he replied: "The decision as to whom we send as a government representative rests solely with us Germans based on our political and moral standards."