Party members elected Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken to head Germany’s center-left Social Democrats (SPD) on Saturday.
Should the two be confirmed as party leaders, their first order of business will be deciding whether to stay in a coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
Some 425,630 members of the center-left party were eligible to take part in the vote. The election result still needs to be confirmed at a party conference slated to run from December 6-8.
Many party members are in favor of leaving the government and rebuilding support for the party in the opposition. That would likely trigger new elections or pave the way for a weak and uncertain minority government.
Opposition to remaining in the coalition came from the ultimately victorious opposition candidates Norbert Walter-Borjans, a former state finance minister, and SPD lawmaker Saskia Esken. The two said they would be willing to leave the coalition unless Merkel’s conservatives renegotiated their coalition agreement — something the CDU has rejected.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and his co-candidate, Klara Geywitz, support remaining in the coalition.
‘We need unity’
Germany’s oldest political party is desperate to try and win back voters following a series of electoral losses and plunging support in opinion polls.
“Whoever wins this membership poll will deserve the full support of the entire party,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, an SPD member, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency ahead of the results.
“We need absolute unity to credibly back up our stance on social justice,” he added.
Third place in polls
The first round of the leadership vote failed to generate enthusiasm, with only around 53.3% of party members taking part.
The leadership election comes six months after former SPD leader Andrea Nahles stepped down from her post following poor European election results.
During Germany’s general election in 2017, support for the party slumped to its lowest level since 1933.
Current opinion polls put the party at 14%, trailing in third place behind Merkel’s conservatives and the Greens and only just coming out ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
es,rs/jlw (dpa, Reuters, AFP)