Germany's SPD has expelled Wolfgang Clement, ending his 38-year membership in the party. The move comes after the former economy and labor minister implicitly advised against voting for the SPD in a key state key poll.
The decision, the culmination of a dispute dating back to January, represents just one more problem for the party, which is currently trailing its conservative coalition partners in the polls by 13 percent with around 26 percent support.
Observers see it a sign of the developing battle between the party's left and reformist wings.
Clement said the decision had come like a "bolt from the blue"
Clement angered SPD members in January when he wrote a guest column for a conservative newspaper in which he queried the suitability of Andrea Ypsilanti for the premiership of Hesse during a closely fought election campaign. He warned that the Hesse SPD would "lurch to the left" under Ypsilanti and attacked her energy policy after she opposed both nuclear and coal-fired power stations.
"For this reason, consider carefully who should be trusted with responsibility for the state and vote carefully," he wrote just a week before the Jan. 27 state elections, in which the SPD narrowly failed to oust the governing Christian Democrats.
An attack on party solidarity
An SDP arbitration committee in North Rhine-Westphalia, where Clement was state premier before taking the economics and labor minister in the government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, ruled that Clement had undermined party solidarity.
"He called on people not to vote for our party and that is damaging behavior," a local SPD leader in North Rhine-Westphalia, Rudolf Malzahn, told news channel N24, defending the party's decision. "He said he would do it again anytime. Regardless of what title and rank a person has -- rules are rules."
NRW SPD chairwoman Hannelore Kraft expressed "regret"
North Rhine-Westphalia SPD chairwoman Hannelore Kraft expressed "regret that things have come this far," but others in the party said it was time for the former minister to go.
Some critics claimed that Clement, who serves on the supervisory board of German energy giant RWE, had exposed himself as a cynical turncoat. The former minister left politics to work in the power generation sector three years ago.
The law office representing Clement -- run by Otto Schily, Schroder's former interior minister -- released a statement Thursday saying Clement would appeal the party's decision.
The 68-year-old Clement was a leading figure in the centrist branch of the party, serving as North Rhine-Westphalia state premier from 1998 to 2002 then as the "super-minister" for economy and labor under Schroeder until 2005.
Clement strongly backed Gerhard Schroeder's disputed Agenda 2010 economic and labor market reforms in the face of opposition from the left wing of the party. Since leaving office, Clement frequently has criticized the SPD's moves to roll back that program.