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Germany's Social Democrats seek leader after Nahles' surprise resignation

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Germany's Social Democrats seek leader after Nahles' surprise resignation
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REUTERS
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Germany's troubled Social Democrats (SPD) on Monday was in talks to appoint three temporary leaders following the resignation of Andrea Nahles.

SPD party chiefs proposed three caretakers to jointly lead the party while it takes time to settle on a new chief: Manuela Schwesig and Malu Dreyer, the premiers of the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Rhineland-Palatinate respectively, and Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel, who leads the SPD in Hesse, Reuters said, citing party sources.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the German government would carry on its work following the shock resignation from Nahles, a junior member of Merkel's governing coalition, on Sunday amid a slump in the party's popularity.

"What I want to say for the government is that we will continue with our work with all seriousness and with great responsibility," Merkel said in a statement to the press.

The centre-left party fell to third place behind Merkel's CDU bloc and the Greens in last month's European Parliament elections.

Nahles said she would also resign as head of the party's parliamentary group as she did not have the support to lead it.

She took over as leader in February 2018, as the SPD reluctantly extended their "grand coalition" with Merkel's conservatives following a poor showing in the previous year's German national election.

Nahles had been due to face a vote on her leadership position on Tuesday after her decision to stay in the coalition was criticised by the party’s left.

“The discussions within the parliamentary faction and feedback from within the party have shown me that I no longer have the necessary support to carry out my duties,” Nahles said in a statement.

What does this mean for Merkel's coalition?

The "grand coalition" is due to rule until 2021 but Nahles' resignation could trigger an early exit from the SPD — forcing Merkel to call snap elections to lead a minority government or seek an alliance with the Greens and liberal Free Democrats.

Trouble within the SPD comes at a time when the Chancellor's CDU party faces its own problems.

Germany's Greens overtook the conservatives to become the country's most popular party, showed an opinion poll on Saturday.

The CDU's party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer called on the SPD to make sure Germany remains with a stable and functioning government.

"I am assuming that the SPD will make its personnel decisions quickly and that the grand coalition's ability to act will not be impaired," she said on Sunday.

However, not everyone is for extending the rule of the "grand coalition".

Earlier, German vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz told Tagesspiegel that he had ruled out entering another grand coalition as the SPD seeks to regroup.

“I am very sure that it would not be justifiable for us to have a fifth grand coalition,” Scholz said in an interview published before Nahles' announcement. “Three grand coalitions in a row would not do democracy in Germany any good."

The ruling coalition is due for a midterm review in September, which could be an opportunity for the SPD to pull the plug on its alliance with the CDU.

Merkel, who handed the leadership of her Christian Democratic Union party to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in December, has said she wants to stay on as chancellor until her fourth term ends when Germany holds its next national election in late 2021.