Prominent German Social Democrat questions Merkel challenge

AP News
Posted: Jul 24, 2015 4:47 AM

BERLIN (AP) — A prominent member of Germany's main center-left party is questioning whether it has any chance of unseating Chancellor Angela Merkel in the country's next election, and even whether it needs a candidate for the top job.

The Social Democrats have supplied three of Germany's eight post-World War II chancellors but are currently the junior partners in a "grand coalition" of Germany's biggest parties led by Merkel's conservative Union bloc.

The Social Democrats have pushed through popular policies such as a national minimum wage. However, opinion polls have barely moved since 2013 elections: they show the Social Democrats trailing the popular Merkel's conservatives by 15 points or more.

Merkel is widely expected to seek a fourth term in 2017 though she hasn't yet said whether she will. Her Social Democratic vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, is considered a likely challenger but polls regularly show that Germans would prefer Merkel as chancellor by a wide margin.

"She is doing an excellent job, she is a good chancellor — a chancellor Germans clearly like," Schleswig-Holstein state governor Torsten Albig, a Social Democrat, said in an interview with NDR television broadcast Thursday

"It is difficult to win an election against this chancellor," he said, and argued that simply participating in a government could be a legitimate election aim.

"We need a strong candidate for that who leads us into a government — whether the title 'chancellor candidate' is right or not, we will see," Albig said.

A deputy party leader quickly rejected those comments. Ralf Stegner wrote on Twitter that he agrees with Albig on most questions — but "not as far as Chancellor Merkel is concerned!"