SPD hopes to revamp itself as voting for new leaders begins

Members of Germany's social-democratic party (SPD) begin voting in the second round of a leadership election on Tuesday in a showdown which could shape the future of Angela Merkel's coalition government.

SPD hopes to revamp itself as voting for new leaders begins
The candidate duos (l-r) for the SPD leadership, Olaf Scholz, Minister of Finance, Klara Geywitz, Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken take part in a TV duel organised by the editorial network Deut

Junior coalition partners to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), the SPD elect their new leaders against a backdrop of disastrous poll ratings and internal division over their role in government.

READ ALSO: Why can't Germany's Social Democrats pull themselves together?

The 425,630 party members have from Tuesday until November 29th to cast their vote, as they elect the first male-female leadership duo in the party's 129-year history.

In a leadership election dominated by one major issue, SPD members must choose between two pairs with differing views on the coalition government.

In place since 2017, it is the third so-called “grand coalition” since 2005, and remains unpopular among voters and SPD members alike.

Incumbent finance minister Olaf Scholz and his partner Klara Geywitz have argued for a continuation of the coalition until the next elections in 2021, though Scholz has also said it should be the last of its kind.

READ ALSO: Olaf Scholz, Germany's problematic new finance chef 

A former mayor of Hamburg and currently Merkel's vice-chancellor, Scholz is considered a potential candidate to run for Chancellor himself if he and Geywitz win.

Challengers Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, meanwhile, have earned support from the party's left and youth wings with a more critical stance on the coalition.

In a televised debate on Monday, Esken said that she would be prepared to let the government fall if the CDU and their Bavarian sister party refused to renegotiate the coalition agreement.

The poll marks the climax of a five-month process, which began when former party leader Andrea Nahles stepped down in June.

Nahles' resignation came after the once proud SPD picked up just 15.3 percent of the vote in May's EU elections, confirming their steady slide in poll ratings in recent years.

READ ALSO: Threat of German government collapse as Merkel's junior coalition partner resigns

Latest polls put the SPD around five points behind the Green Party, which has jumped to 20 percent under its own male-female leadership duo this year.

Results of the vote will be published on November 30th, with the new leaders to be formally confirmed at the party congress on December 6-8th.

During the congress, members will also have the chance to vote on the future of the coalition.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Germany’s centre-right CDU to elect new leadership by end of the year

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party will elect its new leadership by the year's end, general secretary Paul Ziemiak said Monday, detailing plans for a clean slate after a disastrous election that the party lost to the Social Democrats.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

In power for 16 years under Merkel, the Christian Democratic Union is grappling with its deepest crisis in decades after turning in a historic low score in September’s election.

Its leader Armin Laschet last week signalled his readiness to step aside, setting the ball rolling for renewal at the top.

READ ALSO: Laschet signals he’s ready to step down as CDU leader

Ziemiak said a date for the congress to determine the new makeup of the party’s top brass as well as how rank and file members can participate in the leadership selection process will be announced on November 2nd.

But the party’s leaders “today agreed unanimously that we will elect a completely new executive board,” he said, adding that in terms of the calendar, the “window for this is year’s end”.

Bild daily had reported that the party has made a tentative booking for December 6th-13th in Dresden for its possible congress.

READ ALSO: Germany edges a step closer to a government led by Social Democrats

Laschet, who is state premier of Germany’s most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia, was elected head of the CDU in January.

For some time, he was the clear favourite to succeed Merkel, who is bowing out of politics after running four consecutive coalitions.

But his party’s ratings began to slide as he committed a series of gaffes, including being caught on camera laughing in the background during a solemn tribute to flood victims.

With the CDU’s ratings plunging, Merkel tried to boost Laschet’s campaign with joint appearances, but was unable to help the conservatives pull off a win on election day.