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Germany: Merkel’s partners choose left-leaning leadership

Tabansi

Nov. 30, 2019

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. 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 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.
Esken is a federal lawmaker.
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.”
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.
Merkel has said that this will be her final term. The next election is currently due in the fall of 2021 but there have long been questions over whether the coalition will last until then.
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