Critics of Merkel coalition win German SPD leadership vote

Maybe it's time for the SPD to burst the coalition bubble

The shock result heralded a week of uncertainty for the coalition, with next Friday a key date as the SPD is to vote on whether to stay in government when it meets for its annual congress.

Two strong left-wing critics of the coalition with conservatives of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, won the SPD leadership vote on Saturday, possibly placing the country, Europe's largest economy, at a crossroads politics.

Their ascendancy raises the chances of an early election or minority government if the SPD leaves the coalition, which could trigger political instability at a time when the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has become the country's third-largest party.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "Grand Coalition" is under threat from within, as the Social Democrats (SDP) elect new, leftist leaders.

Mr Walter-Borjans is best-known for a 2010-2017 stint as finance minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, during which regional authorities purchased data on potential tax cheats with money hidden in Swiss bank accounts.

The SPD's new leaders ran on a joint ticket with a promise to re-negotiate the partnership deal on issues of spending and climate policies.

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Mr Scholz said the SPD must now "stand behind the new leadership".

In the last sign that the ties established between the parties are being tested, a tripartite coalition composed of CDU, SPD and the Greens agreed on Sunday a government agreement in Saxony, where AfD was second in a September election. CDU deputy leader Thomas Strobl made similar comments to the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's would-be successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, urged the Social Democrats on Sunday to remain part of the government with the Christian Democrats, adding the current coalition agreement provided the basis to move forward. "It paves the way to return to business".

Merkel, in power for 14 years, has said she would step down when her term ends in 2021. The CDU is trying to boost its image and appeal to hold its position as the leading governing party after she goes. In addition to a straight vote on leaving the coalition there will be proposals at the convention setting out conditions for staying, potentially paving the way for prolonged negotiations.

"We want to govern Germany well, we created a basis for that and this internal decision by the Social Democrats has changed nothing about the basis of the 'grand coalition, '" he said.

Paul Ziemiak, general secretary of the CDU (whose Bavarian sister party is the CSU), said "the decision today has changed nothing" about the alliance.

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