Germany's Social Democrats on Sunday elected Franz Müntefering as their new party leader after Chancellor Gerhard Schröder decided to step down from that position. Müntefering promised to continue on a course of reforms.
On top of his party
More than 95 percent of delegates at a party conference in Berlin voted for Müntefering as their new leader. They also elected Klaus Uwe Benneter, an SPD parliamentarian, as new secretary-general with almost 78 percent of the vote.
Müntefering asked delegates to help him lobby for social welfare and labor market reforms among party members. "We need to make it clear to people that we're looking beyong just a day's work when deciding things for this country," he said.
Schröder and Müntefering
Commenting on a possible rivalry between him and Schröder, Müntefering, who is also the SPD's parliamentary leader, said he planned to do everything he could to keep the chancellor in power. "You'll be the chancellor way past 2006," he said to Schröder, referring to the next scheduled general elections.
Müntefering also addressed a group of party dissidents, who have threatened to leave the SPD to form a new leftist party because of the reforms. "Opposition is rubbish," he told them. "Let the others do that -- we want to govern."
In his last speech as party leader, Schröder had earlier defended the reform course and reminded delegates that he had firmly opposed the war in Iraq. "What would have happened if the others had been in power," he asked, referring to the opposition Christian Democrats. "German soldiers would probably be in Iraq today."
Schröder also asked delegates to try and confront the opposition and criticized the conservative's delay of a new immigration law as well as a "populist stand" in the question of an EU membership for Turkey.