Leadership ballot: SPD members vote for underdog and challenge Grand Coalition

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It is a somewhat surprising decision by the SPD party members: Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans are to take over the party leadership. The duo prevailed against Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz.

The former finance minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Norbert Walter-Borjans and the member of the Bundestag Saskia Esken have been elected by the SPD base as the new duo at the top of the party. In the run-off, the two candidates won with 53.06 percent against Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz from Brandenburg.

Scholz and Geywitz received 45.33 percent of the votes. Nationwide, around 54 percent of the more than 425,600 party members took part in the survey. However, the new dual leadership has not yet been officially elected. It still has to be confirmed at next week’s party conference, although this is considered certain. The delegates must, however, first approve the necessary amendment to the party statute.

SPD to stand together

The designated new party leader Walter-Borjans emphasized after the announcement of the results that he and his co-chairwoman must work for more cohesion in the party. It was clear, he said, that they would have to ensure “that we stay together”. Esken added that only together could the SPD be made strong again.

Esken and Walter-Borjans are regarded as representatives of the left wing of the party, and Esken in particular had spoken out against the continuation of the grand coalition in the race for party leadership. The designated duo, however, always refrained from calling for a rushed break-up of the alliance. However, both want to renegotiate the coalition agreement. They demand further billions in investments in climate and infrastructure as well as a minimum wage of twelve euros.

The two losing candidates, Scholz and Geywitz, assured the designated chairmen of their support. “The SPD now has a new party leadership and everyone must gather behind it.”

CDU insists on coalition agreement

The decision of the SPD members caused mixed reactions in other parties. CDU Secretary General Ziemiak congratulated the winning duo: “We are looking forward to a trusting cooperation for the good of our country. What is decisive is not discussions between the parties, but the question of the challenges facing Germany.” But Ziemiak also made it clear that a basis had been laid for a good government: the coalition agreement. The coalition agreement had been concluded between the SPD and the CDU/CSU and nothing had changed. Kai Wegner, CDU state chairman in Berlin, expressed similar sentiments:

“The coalition agreement still applies. Together, we have put good things on the way for the future. The SPD should keep this in mind when it self-critically looks back on the last two years”.

FDP and AfD prepare for new elections

At first, the FDP reacted quite surprised: “I’m completely flabbergasted”, party leader Christian Lindner tweeted after the result of the vote. His party expects far-reaching consequences due to the SPD vote. “The shift towards the left of the SPD and the end of the grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD is sealed,” said FDP deputy Bundestag group leader Michael Theurer, adding: “Germany is on the verge of new elections or a minority government.

Jörg Meuthen, the newly confirmed head of the AfD, is also preparing for new elections in 2020. AfD Bundestag group leader Alice Weidel commented that she would welcome snap elections: “the “cramp” of the grand coalition must be ended.”

The chairman of the Left Party, Bernd Riexinger, hopes for a change in the Social Democrats’ policy: “The SPD and the country urgently need left-wing politics instead of unimaginative GroKo politics,” tweeted Riexinger, paired with congratulations to the designated head duo. The Greens also sent congratulations: “We wish them every success and look forward to a fair, objective and constructive cooperation”, it was said in a joint statement by the Federal Chairmen Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck as well as the heads of the parliamentary groups Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Anton Hofreiter.

Half a year without proper party leadership

For almost half a year, the Social Democrats had lacked a firm party leadership. Andrea Nahles resigned as chairwoman at the beginning of June. At first, a provisional trio consisting of Manuela Schwesig, Malu Dreyer, and Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel took over their duties as party leader. In September, however, Schwesig resigned her provisional position due to a cancer treatment.

As early as the end of June, the SPD executive board spoke out in favour of placing the party’s leadership in the hands of a dual leadership, the appointment of which was to be decided by the party members.

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