German SPD’s Gabriel Welcomes Open Contest to Challenge Merkel

  • Social Democrat leader says a contest would mobilize party
  • SPD chief comments on possible challenge to Merkel in 2017

Germany’s Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel said it would be good for the party to hold an open contest to decide who will challenge Angela Merkel for the country’s chancellorship in the 2017 elections.

With the SPD lagging behind Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the polls, the party chairman signaled that he would welcome a challenge for his position as presumptive chancellor candidate. In an interview with broadcaster ARD on Sunday, Gabriel was asked about possible candidacies of SPD members Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, and Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz.

“If there were to be more than one candidate in the SPD, I think that would be a good thing,” Gabriel told ARD, without commenting on possible rivals. “That would have a very mobilizing effect.”

The SPD plans to introduce one or more candidates for the chancellorship at the beginning of next year, then approve the choice in an open party congress on May 29, said Gabriel, 56. National elections are scheduled for September 2017. Merkel, who’s 62 and in her third term as head of government, hasn’t yet declared her own candidacy for a fourth term.

The SPD had 22 percent support, down one point, in a weekly Emnid poll published Sunday in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc had 34 percent. The Social Democrats have governed as the junior partner in a coalition with Merkel’s faction since 2013.

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