BERLIN — The survival of Germany’s grand coalition remained in doubt Saturday after the Social Democrats sent a pair of government opponents into the second round of the party’s leadership contest, making a final vote at the end of November a referendum on the future of Angela Merkel’s government.
A duo led by German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, an avowed supporter of the party’s coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democrats, placed first in the opening round of the leadership poll with 22.7 percent, but second place went to Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, both of whom have lost confidence in the party’s tie-up with the conservatives.
They trailed Scholz and his partner, Klara Geywitz, by less than two percentage points, winning 21 percent in a field that included six male-female pairs.
The Social Democrats have seen their support collapse from 20 percent in the 2017 election to less than 15 percent in recent polls. Many party members blame the grand coalition, arguing that the compromises the party has been forced to make with Merkel’s center-right bloc has made it impossible for them to fulfil the promises they made to supporters.
More than 50 percent of the SPD’s 425,000 members participated in the vote, which was carried out online and by postal ballot over the past two weeks.
The election of Geywitz, a little known SPD official from Brandenburg, and Scholz, who is also Germany’s vice chancellor, is seen as an endorsement of the continuation of the grand coalition, known as the GroKo in Germany.
But Walter-Borjans, the former finance minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Esken, an MP from southwest Germany, have made no secret of their dislike for partnership with Merkel’s bloc.
Walter-Borjans recently signaled he would only support maintaining the coalition if the conservatives agreed to a €500 billion investment program to improve Germany’s infrastructure and alleviate “social inequality.” It’s a demand Merkel and her allies, who insist the country maintain a balanced budget, can’t accept.
“Everyone can see that this coalition is wearing on both parties and is not good for the country,” Borjans said in a recent newspaper interview.
A final decision on the party’s leadership will come at a party convention in early December but delegates are expected to honor the results of the membership poll.