Sunday 15 September 2019

Merkel's coalition partner seeks new leader - but nobody wants the job

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition hangs in the balance. Photo: AFP
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition hangs in the balance. Photo: AFP

Raymond Colitt

As Germany's second-biggest party begins the search for a new leader, many of the most likely candidates are taking themselves out of the race.

The demise of Andrea Nahles after just over a year as Social Democratic leader offers a vivid demonstration of the pitfalls of leading a party beset by vicious infighting as it spirals in the polls.

With Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government in the balance, her junior partner has given itself a few months to select a new leader. It also faces a decision on whether it wants to stay in a government that many in the base view as a poison chalice.

For now, the Social Democrats have chosen three regional leaders to run the party on an interim basis: Manuela Schwesig, Malu Dreyer and Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel. All three said they won't go for the leadership. Two other contenders - Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Lower Saxony premier Stephan Weil - also won't throw their hats in the ring.

Here are some of the people who will help decide whether the party stays or leaves government, and who could still end up running the party.

Stephan Weil leads the government in Lower Saxony. Popular in the northern state of eight million, he led the party to victory over the CDU in 2017, only weeks after the SPD's devastating losses in the national election. But he told 'NDR Sunday': "I am and remain terribly happy as premier from Lower Saxony and have no other ambitions."

Manuela Schwesig became state leader in the Baltic coast state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in 2017 after serving four years as Ms Merkel's family minister. But Ms Schwesig (45) has ruled herself out - even as the party faces three regional elections in the east this autumn.

Olaf Scholz was a popular mayor of Hamburg. Since he's been Ms Merkel's finance minister, he's viewed with suspicion among the progressive party base. As the SPD's public face of fiscal discipline, he's alienated many on its left.

Kevin Kuehnert, the 29-year-old leader of the SPD's youth organisation, is a long shot. Last month, he made a splash by calling for public takeovers of large companies such as BMW AG. After the 2017 election, he led the campaign in the party's progressive base to reject a coalition with Ms Merkel at all costs. He was overruled by a membership ballot, but he still has support.

Malu Dreyer is highly popular and garnered an impressive 36pc of the vote in 2016 to win a second term as state premier in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Dreyer, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, is in the interim trio pledging to not run.

Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel is the least likely to climb the pecking order. The head of the SPD in Hesse announced he's leaving politics later this year.

Irish Independent

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