Ger­many: Merkel’s part­ners choose left-lean­ing duo

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Second Front -

BER­LIN (AP) — Mem­bers of Ger­many’s ju­nior gov­ern­ing party have cho­sen a left-lean­ing duo as its new lead­ers, a de­ci­sion that could en­dan­ger the fu­ture of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s trou­bled coali­tion.

Nor­bert Wal­ter-Bor­jans and Saskia Esken beat the ri­val team of Vice Chan­cel­lor Olaf Scholz and Klara Gey­witz in a runoff bal­lot of the So­cial Democrats’ mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to results an­nounced Satur­day.

Wal­ter-Bor­jans and Esken won the sup­port of 53% of mem­bers who voted, with just over 45% sup­port­ing their ri­vals.

Their ap­point­ment still needs the for­mal ap­proval of a party congress next week, which also is ex­pected to con­sider whether the party should stay in the “grand coali­tion” of Ger­many’s tra­di­tional big par­ties led by the cen­ter-right Merkel.

While Scholz and Gey­witz strongly fa­vored stay­ing in the coali­tion, Wal­ter-Bor­jans and Esken have sounded much more skep­ti­cal and ad­vo­cated changes to the coali­tion agree­ment.

The So­cial Democrats have been without an elected leader since An­drea Nahles quit in frus­tra­tion nearly six months ago. The party de­cided to ask its 426,000-strong mem­ber­ship who should take on the task of pulling it out of a lengthy poll slump.

The new lead­ers aren’t house­hold names to many Ger­mans.

Wal­ter-Bor­jans is best­known 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.

Esken is a fed­eral law­maker.

Esken said af­ter Satur­day’s an­nounce­ment that none of the would-be lead­ers had been “great friends” of the coali­tion and noted that all had said they didn’t want to ex­tend it be­yond the end of the cur­rent par­lia­men­tary term, cur­rently due in 2021.

But she and Wal­ter-Bor­jans — who un­like some con­tenders elim­i­nated in the first round of vot­ing haven’t clearly ad­vo­cated a fast exit — left open what ex­actly their po­si­tion will be on the coali­tion’s fu­ture.

“We didn’t let our­selves be nailed down to the ques­tion of ev­ery­thing com­ing down to the ques­tion of flee­ing (the coali­tion) or stay­ing in per­ma­nently,” Wal­ter-Bor­jans said.

“We have said clearly that this is about sub­stance; we have said that we must do more on cli­mate, we have said that there must be mas­sive in­vest­ment,” he said.

“We will once again name the points that are im­por­tant to us and then have the party congress de­cide what can wait, and what must be im­ple­mented so ur­gently that we raise the ques­tion of the coali­tion be­cause of it,” he added.

Scholz, who is also Ger­many’s fi­nance min­is­ter, vowed his sup­port for the lead­ers-elect. He said af­ter the vote that the party has made a de­ci­sion “and all must rally be­hind it.”

Paul Ziemiak, the gen­eral sec­re­tary of Merkel’s Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union, said he looked for­ward to “trust­ing co­op­er­a­tion for the good of our coun­try.”

“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.

The So­cial Democrats have pro­vided three of Ger­many’s eight post-World War II chan­cel­lors but have served as ju­nior part­ners in three of Merkel’s four gov­ern­ments since 2005. They joined the cur­rent coali­tion only re­luc­tantly last year af­ter Merkel was un­able to put to­gether an al­ter­na­tive al­liance.

Polls cur­rently show sup­port for the So­cial Democrats at 13 or 14%. That com­pares with their al­ready poor show­ing of 20.5% in the 2017 elec­tion; sup­port for Merkel’s Union bloc is about twice as high and the So­cial Democrats also have fallen be­hind the Greens, tra­di­tion­ally smaller ri­vals on the left.

Kay Ni­et­feld/dpa via AP

Nor­bert Wal­ter-Bor­jans and Saskia Esken wave Satur­day af­ter the an­nounce­ment of the re­sult of the vote on the SPD chair­man­ship in the Willy Brandt House in Ber­lin, Ger­many.

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