Good threads on subject I know too little about, but thought this was an interesting turn of events. Maybe they'll be forced to look at the Left Party possibility again(?) Even if no go, it's good to see a younger feistier generation coming up.
German Socialist to Quit; Coalition in Doubt
By MARK LANDLER
Published: November 1, 2005
FRANKFURT, Oct. 31 - Negotiations to form a new German government were thrown into jeopardy Monday when the leader of one of the two main parties said he would step down after losing an internal power struggle.
Franz Müntefering, leader of the Social Democrats, said on Monday that he would step down, throwing coalition talks into disarray.
The chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Franz Müntefering, said he would not run for re-election next month after the party's executive committee rejected his candidate for its No. 2 position.
Mr. Müntefering, 65, is representing the Social Democrats in delicate negotiations to form a coalition government with the Christian Democratic Union, led by Angela Merkel. The parties had hoped to wrap up the talks in time to elect Mrs. Merkel on Nov. 22 as the first woman to serve as German chancellor.
The turmoil in the Social Democratic Party, however, suggests that date could slip. Some political analysts here said it could unravel the coalition entirely, because Mr. Müntefering is viewed as one of the only figures in the party who can impose order on its bickering factions.
"This is a political earthquake, not only for the Social Democrats but for the coalition negotiations, too," said Uwe Andersen, a professor of political science at Ruhr University in Bochum.
Although Mr. Müntefering said he would continue to take part in the coalition talks, analysts said his weakened status would make an agreement more difficult to reach. A shrewd party operative well-respected by the opposition, Mr. Müntefering has played a central role in managing the transition from the center-left government of Gerhard Schröder to a so-called grand coalition of the two major parties. He helped broker the deal under which Mr. Schröder agreed to relinquish the chancellorship in return for his party's holding several powerful ministries.
Mr. Müntefering had been expected to become vice chancellor and labor minister in the new government, which would make him Germany's second-most powerful politician, after Mrs. Merkel.
His announcement, in a terse news conference, was the latest in a series of shocks for the Social Democrats, once one of Germany's most powerful political machines. Since it returned to power in 1998 under the leadership of Mr. Schröder, the party has struggled to reconcile its heritage as a workers' party with the urgent need to streamline Germany's economy.
Mr. Müntefering's decision to step down left politicians here baffled, because unlike Mr. Schröder, he is not known for gamesmanship.
The jolt reached other parties too. Edmund Stoiber, a leading conservative politician who has developed a good rapport with Mr. Müntefering, said the announcement had given him second thoughts about his own role in a grand coalition government.
Mr. Stoiber, the prime minister of Bavaria, is the designated economics minister under Mrs. Merkel, and he has been a constant presence at her side in the talks with Mr. Müntefering and Mr. Schröder. His defection would sting Mrs. Merkel, since he heads the sister party of the Christian Democrats.
"Angela Merkel's position is not shattered, but it is undermined," said Jürgen Falter, a professor of political science at Mainz University. "We are a step closer to new elections."
There is little appetite for a new election. Another alternative - cobbling together coalitions with Germany's smaller parties - is no more likely to succeed now than it was after the election.
Germany's two top leaders tried to sound confident, though both appeared shaken by the sudden developments. Mrs. Merkel insisted there was a strong will on both sides to form a grand coalition.
Mr. Schröder expressed anguish at the defeat of Mr. Müntefering, one of his closest allies, but predicted the coalition talks would be brought to a successful resolution. "There mustn't be any impact on the creation of a stable government," he said to reporters in Berlin.
Mr. Schröder may not have much influence over the outcome, analysts said. His power within the Social Democratic Party has waned since he announced he would not serve in the next government.
Like Mr. Müntefering, Mr. Schröder, 61, represents an older generation of Social Democrats that is increasingly at odds with younger party members. Some of these up-and-comers are staunchly leftist and opposed Mr. Schröder's efforts to overhaul the German economy.
The tension finally erupted at the recent party meeting, when Mr. Müntefering backed a longtime aide, Kajo Wasserhövel, to be general secretary. Political analysts said some of the younger members were antagonized by what they viewed as Mr. Müntefering's high-handed style.
Mr. Müntefering, a Catholic from a working-class family, has used populist language to appeal to his party's faithful. He famously labeled foreign investors "locusts" intent on devouring German assets. But he also helped Mr. Schröder push through his economic reforms.
"Müntefering was the person who held things together," Professor Andersen said. "It will be much more difficult for the negotiations if he is in a weak position, and if the left wing becomes stronger."
[I deleted a couple nonessential paragraphs to put this within copyrites, but no more as I don't like the NYT's tightened subscription policies. Another unhealthy trend]
[ 01 November 2005: Message edited by: Erik the Red ]