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30.11.2019 Europe

German coalition in suspense as SPD picks new leaders

NOV 30, 2019 EUROPE

The future of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government hung in the balance on Saturday as her junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, prepared to announce the result of their leadership election. The far-right AfD also staged a leadership contest, sparking huge protests. 

The favourites in the Social Democrat (SPD) race are a duo composed of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and his running mate Klara Geywitz, who both support the centre-left party staying in coalition with Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats until 2021.

The coalition deal was struck last year following inconclusive parliamentary elections in 2017.

The challengers are Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans, who have been critical of the coalition and represent the left wing of the party.

The result of a vote by the party's 426,630 members is to be announced on Saturday, ahead of the party conference next month in Berlin, where delegates will vote on whether or not to stay in the coalition.

The leadership race was triggered by the departure of the SPD's previous leader, Andrea Nahles, after the party's poor showing in elections for the European Parliament.

In the latest opinion polls, the SPD, which came second in the 2017 federal election, is vying for third place with the far-right AfD, behind the CDU and the Greens.

Victory for Scholz and Geywitz would be a relief for Merkel, who has been chancellor for 14 years and plans to stay on until the end of her mandate in 2021.

Huge protests as far-right AfD chooses new leaders

Germany's far-right AfD party is also poised to rejuvenate its leadership on Saturday at a congress which has been hit by massive protests. The far-right organisation risks seeing its increasingly influential radical wing tighten its grip on the group.

The anti-migrant party's extremists have the upper hand after electoral gains in eastern regions in September and October that have caused widespread domestic and international alarm.

Underlining the polarising effect the party has on Germany, thousands of protesters gathered outside the congress hall in the city of Braunschweig in a noisy demonstration against what they call a racist party.

Tensions are running high as 78-year-old Alexander Gauland prepares to step down from his co-chairman role, while 58-year-old Joerg Meuthen is set to defend his seat against a challenge from party radicals.