Merkel opponents vow new start after election rout

16th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

The centre-left SPD party emerged from a conference in the eastern city of Dresden pledging to be a thorn in Merkel's side despite the party's worst election result in postwar German history on September 27.

Berlin -- Germany's opposition Social Democrats vowed a fresh start Sunday in their bid to recover from a disastrous election result with both new leaders and policies to try to topple Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The centre-left SPD party emerged from a conference in the eastern city of Dresden pledging to be a thorn in Merkel's side despite the party's worst election result in postwar German history on September 27.

A central feature in their new plan to battle Merkel was a promise to introduce a "wealth tax" while reducing the fiscal burden on average earners.

The party also called for the ground to be laid over the next four years for an end to the country's unpopular mission in Afghanistan, where Germany has some 4,300 troops as part of an international force.

Sigmar Gabriel, the party's new chairman, said doubters write off the SPD at their peril.

"You have shown that those who thought we are finished were wrong," Gabriel, 50, told delegates.

"We have embarked on a new beginning for social democratic politics in Germany," he added to rapturous applause.

In addition to their 20-page manifesto for their years on the opposition benches, the SPD also elected new faces to lead them out of their crisis.

Aside from Gabriel, Andrea Nahles, the de facto leader of the party's left wing, was elected deputy leader.

But the party immediately came under attack from all sides of the political spectrum.

Klaus Ernst, vice-chairman of the far-left Linke party, which has attracted many disaffected voters from the SPD's left-wing, described the party's vow to introduce a "wealth tax" as "unbelievable."

"The SPD had 11 years while they were in government to adopt a wealth tax and they didn't lift a finger," he said.

"The core problem with the SPD is and remains the lack of credibility in their leadership."

From the other side, the general secretary of Merkel's Christian Democrats, Hermann Groehe, said the SPD was "fleeing ever further into the left corner."

However, Gabriel at least received strong backing from one senior member of his own party, which remains riven by divisions between centrists and those on the left-wing of the party.

"Gabriel showed clearly in his speech what he can do and how he can bring people along with him. He can also win elections," said Kurt Beck, a powerful state leader and SPD heavyweight in an interview with Monday's Bild daily.

AFP/Expatica

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