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Key Schroeder lieutenant drops post

Published on 25/11/2003

25 November 2003

HAMBURG – Olaf Scholz, who manages Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, announced this week he was giving up his provincial power base in Hamburg.

A week ago, Scholz, 45, suffered at the hands of disgruntled Social Democrats a humiliating low vote in the ballot for general secretary of the party. Analysts said the affront was a calculated warning from the party rank and file that Schroeder has strayed too far from its the party’s traditional social democratic doctrines.

Announcing he would not be seeking the chairmanship when the post comes up for re-election next May, Scholz told the state executive Monday he wished to concentrate on his Berlin duties. Scholz is also a sitting member of the federal parliament or Bundestag.

At a party congress in Bochum last week, Scholz just scraped back into office as general secretary with only 52.6 per cent of the vote. Since then, Schroeder is reported to have claimed that delegates from northern Germany had been behind his poor showing.

In particular, Schroeder is understood to have blamed party members from the state of Lower Saxony, where he was premier before becoming chancellor.

Nowadays the Lower Saxony party answers to self-confident local politician Sigmar Gabriel, who was groomed by Schroeder for a brief stint as Lower Saxony premier, but quickly demonstrated independence of his former mentor.

Gabriel, who has denied plotting to take over Scholz’s job, is widely seen as having ambitions for the party leadership if Schroeder should stumble. For months, polls have shown only about a quarter of German voters would support Schroeder if elections were held now.

As yet, party office-holders have not dared challenge Schroeder, but the blow to his lieutenant has been seen as a possible rehearsal.

Subject: German news