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Merkel’s potential coalition partners struggle for consensus

German opposition parties are struggling to decide whether they should enter a coalition with chancellor Merkel’s conservatives. Both Social Democrats and the Green Party face tough resistance to such a move from within.

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SPD weighs coalition with Merkel

The Social Democrats emerged as the second strongest party in Sunday's general election at 25.7 percent of the vote, and now look most likely to be heading towards coalition talks with Angela Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU.

Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), won their best result in more than two decades in the election, but finished five seats short of an absolute majority, at just under 42 percent.

Their previous coalition partner, the market-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), failed to clear the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament. So Merkel needs a new partner, and is expected to ignore the far-left Left Party.

A coalition with the SPD would give Merkel and the CDU a very comfortable majority in parliament, but not everyone in the SPD is sure that is the best choice for the party.

SPD soul-searching

A showdown is expected Friday, when SPD leaders meet in Berlin. Social Democrats from six of Germany's 16 states have announced they would push for a party referendum on the coalition issue. This would delay the beginning of such talks by several weeks.

SPD Party chairman Sigmar Gabriel (pictured above, right) is seen to be in favor of holding coalition talks. But such a move is strongly opposed by the powerful SPD in Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Observers see this as an indication that popular NRW state premier Hannelore Kraft may be set to challenge Gabriel for the party leadership.

According to opinion polls, a majority of Germans would support a coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD as the best bet for a stable government to steer Europe's largest economy through the next four years.

Merkel headed such a 'grand coalition' from 2005 to 2009, after which the SPD dropped dramatically in voter surveys.

Merkel said on Monday she had already made contact with the SPD leadership, but did not rule out talks with other parties.

Bavaria's Seehofer rejects Greens

The other option for Merkel would be a coalition with the Greens. But Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, who heads the CSU, on Tuesday categorically ruled out any cooperation with the environmentalist Green Party. They won 8.4 percent of the vote on Sunday, making them the fourth-largest party in parliament.

"I won't hold such talks (with the Greens). End of story," said Horst Seehofer, who was strengthened by a landslide victory in Bavaria's regional state election on September 15.

Seehofer told the news magazine Der Spiegel that he feared a coalition with the Greens would be perceived as a leftward shift of the conservatives, which in turn could encourage more voters to turn to right-wing fringe parties such as the anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD), which narrowly failed to win seats on Sunday.

The Greens, however, are involved in a major overhaul of their leadership and party platform following their poor showing in the polls. A coalition with the conservatives is seen as very unlikely for the party that has a strong left wing.

rg/dr (dpa, Reuters)

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