Germany’s Social Democrats clear path for Merkel’s fourth term

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Berlin, March 4: Germany’s second biggest party said Sunday its members have in their high-stakes referendum approved a plan to join Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, clearing the last hurdle in the way of the veteran leader’s fourth term.
But the chancellor, in power for 12 years, will go into her fourth term with far weaker cards than before, as she had to pay a high price to coax the reluctant Social Democratic Party (SPD) back into another loveless “grand coalition”.
Two in three of the SPD’s rank and file backed a new partnership with Merkel’s conservatives, heralding an end to the political stalemate that has plagued Europe’s biggest economy since September’s inconclusive elections.
Stung by their worst post-war results, the SPD had initially ruled out another four years under Merkel’s shadow.
But after Merkel’s attempt to cobble together a government with two smaller parties failed, the SPD relented.
With the party riven over its way forward, its leadership promised its more than 460,000 members the final say on any coalition deal.
“We now have clarity. The SPD will be in the next government,” said SPD’s caretaker chairman Olaf Scholz, adding that his party plans to send three male and three female ministers to the cabinet.
With the SPD’s emphatic decision to move forward with a new partnership, Merkel is expected to launch her fourth government by mid-March.
But Merkel faces a far rockier road ahead than in the last four years.
Unlike in their previous partnership when Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD enjoyed a crushing majority, this time they now have only a slim 56 percent (399 out of total 709) of seats in parliament.
Both sides had been weakened as voters angry about the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers in Germany since 2015 turned to the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD). (AFP)