Muentefering steps down after candidate fails

31st October 2005, Comments 0 comments

31 October 2005, BERLIN - The leader of outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats, Franz Muentefering, said Monday he would resign after his bid to install an aide in the party's national leadership was voted down.

31 October 2005

BERLIN - The leader of outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats, Franz Muentefering, said Monday he would resign after his bid to install an aide in the party's national leadership was voted down.

"Under these conditions I cannot remain party chairman," said Muentefering at a hastily arranged news briefing.

The surprise development cast a shadow over coalition talks between designated conservative chancellor Angela Merkel who is holding negotiations with Muentefering for a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).

Muentefering said he would continue to head the SPD delegation at coalition talks with Merkel but that he would not seek re-election at a party congress in November.

It was unclear if Muentefering still planned to be a member of the new German cabinet. At present he is slated to be deputy chancellor and to head the labour ministry which controls the biggest chunk of the federal government's budget.

"The SPD is leaderless," said a commentary by German news channel N-TV's chief political correspondent, Volker Jacobs, adding that building a grand coalition would now be far more difficult.

But Jacobs predicted Merkel and the SPD would still seek to forge their government and that the resignation of Muentefering would not lead to a fresh general German election.

Speculation over a possible successor for Muentefering focused on Matthias Platzeck, the SPD premier of eastern Brandenburg state.

Muentefering's decision to quit was triggered by the defeat of SPD election campaign strategist Kajo Wasserhoevel who he had wanted as secretary-general.

But the SPD's executive committee defied their chairman and elected a leading party leftist, Andrea Nahles, who won 23 votes compared to just 14 for Wasserhoevel.

Nahles earlier openly defied Muentefering by refusing to withdraw her candidacy for the post.

An ex-leader of the SPD youth movement, Nahles is a charismatic left-winger. But her combative style is the opposite of party chief Muentefering, who prefers to avoid public conflict.

Muentefering was reportedly concerned that left-wing positions of Nahles would make it difficult for him to hammer out compromises for an alliance of the SPD with the Christian Democrats of Merkel who is expected to be elected as chancellor by parliament on November 22.

Wasserhoevel, a behind the scenes power-broker, had been widely credited with saving Chancellor Schroeder from an election debacle by plotting a hard-hitting campaign.

After falling to historic poll lows, the chancellor surged from behind and was only narrowly defeated by Merkel in Germany's September elections. This forced Merkel to seek the grand coalition which will keep the SPD in power as her junior partner.

Negotiations for a Merkel-led government were due to continue later Monday between her Christian Democrats and the SPD.

DPA

Subject: German news

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