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Germany's socialists elect Martin Schulz as leader to challenge Merkel

Martin Schulz was anointed leader of the Social Democrats with 100% of the valid votes cast at a special convention

20 March 2017, 8:24am
Martin Schulz secured all 605 votes at a special party conference in Berlin on Sunday
Martin Schulz secured all 605 votes at a special party conference in Berlin on Sunday
Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) have voted overwhelmingly for former European parliament president Martin Schulz to become the party’s new head and the main challenger to Angela Merkel in September’s general election.

Schulz, 61, secured all 605 votes at a special party conference in Berlin on Sunday, a record result beating even Kurt Schumacher, the party’s popular post-war leader, who secured 99.71% of the vote in 1948.

Schulz, who apart from serving as a provincial mayor for several years has not held a high-profile political post in Germany but instead has made his career in European politics, called the result the “prelude to conquest of the chancellery”.

“This is an overwhelming moment for me and for us all,” Schulz told the meeting.

In a speech to party members, Schulz pledged to support the working man and woman, and to ensure social justice for all, from the nursery to retirement.

He sharply attacked the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), currently on 8% in the polls, compared the far-right protest group Pegida to supporters of Donald Trump, and criticised a conservative re-election pledge to reduce taxes as sending out a wrong signal.

Schulz also repeated his vow to undo some of the radical labour market changes introduced by Gerhard Schröder, the last SPD chancellor, which have been seen as the main reason for the party’s chronic poor standing in the polls.

On Sunday, a poll showed a left-leaning alliance led by the SPD would potentially have enough support to oust Merkel from power in crucial parliamentary elections, expected to be held on 24 September.

Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative alliance has been in power under her since 2005. Merkel’s has 33% support, with the SPD on 32%.

Merkel remains the most popular choice for chancellor, however, with 46% of voters saying they would choose her in a direct vote, against 38% for Schulz.