Sigmar Gabriel has been re-elected as leader of the Social Democrats. The vote came at a party convention, where Gabriel reassured delegates that the SPD would not sell out in coalition talks with the conservatives.
The approximately 600 delegates at the Social Democrats' (SPD) convention in Leipzig gave Sigmar Gabriel a renewed mandate to lead the party. However, the result was the worst since he first became party chairman four years ago.
A total of 478 of the delegates case their votes in favor of Gabriel on Thursday, while 78 voted against. This breaks down to a majority of 83.6 percent of the votes, compared to 94.2 percent in 2009 and 91.6 percent in 2011.
Shortly after the votes were counted, Gabriel thanked the delegates for "an extraordinarily honest election result in this situation."
The situation Gabriel and the party find themselves in is one of trying to negotiate an agreement to govern with what would be a much stronger coalition partner than the Social Democrats.
In the September 22 general election, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), fell just five seats short of a majority. With their preferred coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats, having failed to clear the five-percent hurdle to send lawmakers to the Bundestag, the conservatives are seeking to form a so-called grand coalitiongovernment with Gabriel's SPD.
Continued coalition negotiations
The ongoing coalition talks have become bogged down over a number of issues on which the two sides differ.
A few hours prior to the vote on his leadership, Gabriel used a speech to the convention to express the importance of bringing the coalition talks to a successful conclusion.
"In these coalition negotiations, the SPD can achieve a lot for the people of Germany," Gabriel said. At the same time though, he warned that the party would be ill advised to take an "all or nothing" approach. He also said there was no getting around the fact that the party would not be able to assert some of its policy priorities.
However, he also said there were some points on which the party was not prepared to compromise, including a demand that the coalition agreement include a pledge to introduce a general hourly minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.40).
Gabriel also addressed the skepticismof some party members about entering a coalition with the CDU, particularly in light of the SPD's disappointing result in the 2009 general election, which followed four years of grand coalition government under Merkel.
The opportunity to play a role in the government should not be discarded lightly Gabriel said. At the same time though, he noted that it was not inevitable that the party would enter a grand coalition.
"Keeping the SPD united is more important than governing," Gabriel said, alluding to a plan to put any coalition agreement with the CDU to a vote by the party's members in early December.
The SPD chairman also said the party had learned from the previous grand coalition under Merkel.
"We won't, for a second time, pursue policies that go against the SPD's understanding of itself," he said.
Gabriel also opened the door to the possibility of entering a coalition with the Left party at national level sometime in the future. Until now, the Social Democrats have always rejected this possibility.
Gabriel said the SPD's rejection of this idea was borne of practical considerations, but was not a matter of principle. He said that in the future the SPD could be open to working with the Left, whose membership is in part made up of former East German communist, if the party were to amend some of its more radical positions.
pfd/dr (dpa, Reuters)