Leaders of Germany's main opposition Social Democratic Party have named former Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year's federal election, due to be held in September.
'The Social Democrats' (SPD) chairman, Sigmar Gabriel, told a press conference in Berlin on Friday that he would nominate Steinbrück as the center-left's chancellery candidate at a special meeting of the SPD's executive on Monday.
Steinbrück, 65, is a former premier of Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia and former federal finance minister. He has a reputation as an outspoken critic on global financial issues, including bankers' behavior and Switzerland's policy on tax evaders.
Gabriel's announcement ends months of speculation in which SPD leaders had insisted that any decision would not come until early 2013.
Steinbrück vows '200 percent' effort
Gabriel and the party's parliamentary party leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who had previously signalled interest in the candidacy, appeared with Steinbrück at the conference.
Steinbrück said he intended to run a "200 percent" campaign to form Germany's next government comprising the Social Democrats and the Greens.
Steinmeier, who served as foreign minister in Germany's previous grand coalition government, unsuccessfully challenged Merkel in 2009, resulting in a post-war electoral low for the SPD of 23 percent.
Merkel accused of standstill politics
Gabriel used to press conference to accuse Chancellor Merkel's coalition government comprising her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian allies and the pro-business liberal Free Democrats, of presiding over "anti-democratic" trends in Germany stemming from globalisation and politics that had led the country to a "standstill."
The SPD's aim was to "tame" the financial markets and to "restore "social equilibrium" in which all people in Germany would again be able to participate, Gabriel said, referring to Germany's post-war model of social market democracy.
Steinbrück only one remaining, says CDU
In an initial reaction, senior CDU parliamentarian Michael Grosse-Brömer sent out a social network message, saying "Gabriel can't do it, Steinmeier doesn't want it. There's only one remaining," he said, referring to Steinbrück.
Greens co-chairman Cem Özdemir said his party hoped to govern again with the Social Democrats and described Steinbrück as a candidate who unpacked the "boxing gloves."
Liberal FDP Health Minister Daniel Bahr said "Mr Steinbrück does not embody the SPD's party program."
Claus Schmiedel who is the SPD's party floor leader in the southwestern state of Baden-Würtemberg described Steinbrück as "the right choice in the light of the current euro crisis, because of his expertise in finance and economic policymaking,”
Earlier on Friday, the mass circulation Bild newspaper had reported the decision to bring forward the candidacy decision had been made due to mounting pressure from the SPD's regional state branches in recent days.
Merkel leads in survey
Fresh survey results published on Friday by ZDF public television station showed Merkel polling as preferred chancellor on 53 percent. Trailing her were the SPD's Steinbrück and Steinmeier, each on 36 percent. Gabriel polled only 27 percent.
Overall, Merkel's CDU polled 38 percent among respondents, when asked which party they would vote for. The Social Democrats scored 29 percent, with the Greens on 13 percent, the newly formed Pirate Party on six percent. The FDP liberals polled four percent, echoing its historical slump in support.
Senior political scientist Gerd Langguth told the Reuters news agency that Steinbrück could "poach" voters from the CDU. Another political scientist Gero Neugebauer said for Merkel, Steinbrück was the "most dangerous candidate" because he could attract voters among Germany's mainstream middle-class milieu.
Prominent pollster Klaus-Peter Schöppner of the survey institute Emnid said the most important step was that the SPD had ended "its long drawn-out leadership discussion."
ipj/pfd (dpa, Reuters, AFP)