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Merkel's fate in SPD hands as members vote on power pact

Sunday, February 18, 2018

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HAMBURG, Germany (AFP) — Leaders of Germany's Social Democrats voiced hope yesterday they would be able to persuade rank and file members to join forces in Government with Chancellor Angela Merkel and end a damaging political impasse.

The SPD started campaigning yesterday ahead of a referendum that spells the last threat to Merkel's hopes of forming a new Government, five months after an inconclusive election.

In a vote expected to be tight, the more than 460,000 members of the deeply divided centre-left SPD will cast their ballots on a plan to enter a new coalition as junior partners to Merkel's conservatives.

Andrea Nahles, who is set in April to become the SPD's first female leader, said she was “very optimistic” after the launch of the campaign in the northern port city of Hamburg.

“We feel that the coalition deal that we negotiated has a great deal of support (among party members),” she said.

The vote, which starts on Tuesday, comes as the 153-year-old party's ratings are in free fall, with latest opinion polls giving it just 16 per cent support — only one point ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany.

If the SPD rank and file give the thumbs up in the results to be announced on March 4, Merkel will likely launch her fourth-term Government by late March.

If they vote no, Germans will probably face a snap election, prolonging the political limbo in Europe's biggest economy and threatening the end of Merkel's 12-year reign.

A tense SPD leadership hopes that restive party troops will back their plans for a new “grand coalition”, dubbed GroKo, despite deep-seated fears the party will suffer further in the shadow of Merkel.

Opinion polls suggest two-thirds of SPD voters support another right-left alliance, but the mood of active members is hard to gauge.

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