Leadership row drags Germany's SPD into new crisis after coalition deal

Loetzsch says Merkel doesn’t have a

Martin Schulz said last week he would quit as leader so the party could reinvent itself, and urged members to back parliamentary floor leader Andrea Nahles as his successor.

The SPD members in Berlin and Saxony-Anhalt who oppose handing the reins over to Nahles include Berlin's Governing Mayor Michael Müller, who said before a meeting of the SPD's top committees that his national association wants "the party's chairs elected through an orderly process of delegates at a federal party convention, rather than appointed".

Last Monday, the SPD reached an agreement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Conservatives Union to form a grand cabinet in formal government coalition negotiations, a move likely to end the longest ever new government vacuum after the September 24 federal elections.

Amid deep rank-and-file divisions over the coalition deal and the distribution of ministerial posts, and facing a slump in opinion polls, SPD leaders are trying to convince 464,000 party members to endorse the accord with Merkel in a ballot on which her fourth term depends. Schulz said after the deal was announced that he would step down following the members' vote - the results of which are due to be announced on March 4 - to take the job of foreign minister, but later dropped that plan amid controversy. He told German news agency, "Die Welt", that "there no statutory basis exists in the SPD's rules that allows for the appointment of a new party leader".

The failed chancellor candidate and former head of the European Parliament made the decision after days of personnel debates within the SPD.

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The development followed Schulz's announcement Friday that he was abandoning plans to become foreign minister in the new government.

Scholz is widely expected to become finance minister and vice chancellor in the new government if the coalition agreement is approved. "No more indiscipline in the SPD", said Ralf Stegner, the regional SPD leader in Schleswig-Holstein. The party's youth wing is already campaigning for a no-vote as it fears that another grand coalition with Mrs Merkel's conservatives will further erode the party's identity.

In a cartoon published on Tuesday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily showed Nahles with a whip riding an SPD snail. The SPD was at a record low of 16.5 percent, barely ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Martin Schulz formally resigned as leader of Germany's Social Democrats, drawing the curtain on his career in the upper echelon of domestic politics less than a year after he took over the party.

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