Schulz confirmed SPD chief to challenge Merkel in elections
21 March, 2017, 13:47 | Author: Valerie Burke
The SPD's popularity has been rising since Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament, was named its candidate to take on Merkel in the bid to become the country's chancellor in the September election.
Nearly two months after the former European Parliament president emerged as Merkel's main challenger in the September election, Schulz pledged to campaign for equal pay for men and women and warned against nationalist parties in a party convention speech yesterday.
The latest polls put the party nearly neck and neck with the ruling Christian Democrats, who had until recently enjoyed a double digit lead.
Schulz, 61, secured all 605 votes at a special party conference in Berlin on Sunday, a record result beating even Kurt Schumacher, the party's popular post-war leader, who secured 99.71% of the vote in 1948.
He replaces Sigmar Gabriel, who stepped down as chairman in January in an attempt to improve the party's chances.
It has been the junior partner in Germany's "grand coalition" since 2013.
Gabriel, a long-time hopeful for SPD candidate to challenge sitting Chancellor Merkel, said he would not participate in the Sept 24 general elections.
"Whoever wants to govern with us is very much welcome to come forward after the election", Schulz told the Rheinische Post newspaper in comments published Friday.
Merkel remains the most popular choice for chancellor, however, with 46% of voters saying they would choose her in a direct vote, against 38% for Schulz. In a nod to critics on the left, Schulz is proposing to expand benefits for jobless who agree to retraining.
Opinion polls suggest the Social Democrats trail the CDU, although Mr Schulz's personal rating compares favourably with that of Mrs Merkel, who plans to run for a fourth term. The March 6-10 survey of 2,505 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
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