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Germany’s SPD nominates Martin Schulz for September elections

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Martin Schulz greets the audience during a party event of the German Social Democratic party (SPD) in Berlin on January 29, 2017. (AFP photo)

Senior members of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) have endorsed an initiative to nominate Martin Schulz as the party’s candidate for the September 24 elections.

About 35 SPD leaders on Sunday unanimously approved Schulz, a member of the European Parliament and its former president, as the party’s candidate to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in the general elections.

The decision has to be approved in SPD’s special party conference, which is planned to be held in Berlin in March. If approved, 61-year-old Schulz will replace Sigmar Gabriel, the current leader of the party and vice-chancellor in Merkel’s grand coalition government. Gabriel has announced plans for resignation to enhance SPD’s chances in the parliamentary elections.

SPD has been the junior partner in Merkel’s right-left government since 2013. However, the overhaul in the party’s top echelon means it is serious about unseating Merkel, who has been the chancellor since 2005. Merkel has seen a fall in her approval ratings following a decision in the summer of 2015 to open borders to refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and outgoing German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel attend a session of the German Bundestag (lower house of parliament) in Berlin on January 26, 2017. (AFP photo)

The 62-year-old chancellor is expected to face the toughest campaign as she seeks a fourth term in office. Polls suggest that Merkel's conservative Christian Union bloc (CDU/CSU) still tops the list of the strongest political forces in Germany, owing that mainly to the growing public fear about the rise of a far-right, populist government.

According to a poll conducted from January 9 to January 13 among a representative sample of 2,053 eligible voters, the CDU/CSU enjoys a popularity of 38 percent, followed in distant second by the SPD with 21 percent.

The most fearful of all for Merkel has been the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has largely capitalized on security issues allegedly caused by refugees in Germany over the past two years, blaming Merkel and her party for all of those problems.

Deep divisions

Schulz said Sunday that he would do his best to overcome “deep divisions” in Germany, adding that if he becomes chancellor, he would fight for greater equality in the country of more than 80 million. The European parliamentarian, who has not been to Germany’s Bundstag for the past 20 years, told a crowd of over 1,000 people at the party's headquarters in Berlin that his economic focus would be to devise fairer tax rules.

Schulz also called for solidarity on the issue of refugees in Europe and blasted some eastern European leaders for their hate rhetoric against the refugees. He decried positions adopted by US President Donald Trump, saying actions and comments by the US leader on issues such as human rights are totally unacceptable. 

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