Berlin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political future hangs in the balance as her floundering coalition partners, the SPD, elect new leaders on Saturday.
The choice could determine whether or not the SPD will stay in the coalition until 2021, when Merkel is planning to step down and retire from politics. The vote was triggered by the departure of the Social Democrats’ previous leader, Andrea Nahles, after the party’s poor showing in European Parliament elections.
For the first time since the party was founded in 1890, a male-female duo will take over the party’s leadership — following a model adopted by the Greens. Another novelty is that the vote is no longer reserved to the 1,000 delegates attending the party conference but is open to all of the party’s 426,630 members, who have until Friday to vote online or by post. The result will be announced on Saturday ahead of the party conference on 6-8 December in Berlin.
Despite its importance, the election has failed to generate much excitement and the centre-left party is currently vying for third place in the polls with the far-right AfD after Merkel’s centre-right CDU and the Greens. In the first round of voting, which whittled down the pairs to two, only 53 per cent of members took part. The second round sees Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz, who got 22.7 per cent in the first round, go up against Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken (21 per cent). Victory for the first pair would be a relief for Merkel, who has been chancellor for 14 years.
Deputy Chancellor and Finance Minister Scholz and his running mate Geywitz want the coalition, which was put together with great difficulty in 2018, to stay. Scholz lacks charisma and has been dubbed ‘Scholzomat’ for his propensity to speak like an automaton but he has the full confidence of Merkel. If the other duo wins, Merkel’s fate is less clear.
Esken and Walter-Borjans have been highly critical of the coalition, although they have stopped short of calling for the SPD to pull out of it. Conference delegates will in any case vote on whether to stay in the uneasy partnership after months of tensions.
The SPD scored a rare victory this month by getting the government to agree on the need to top up basic pensions. But Esken and Walter-Borjans have called for an end to Scholz’s “zero new debt” policies and the current government’s timidity on battling climate change.