August 20, 2019 / 1:49 PM / 25 days ago

Germany's Scholz picks eastern woman as running mate for SPD chair

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will run for the leadership of the Social Democrats (SPD) with a female colleague from the former communist east on a ticket that represents a commitment to the coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz attends a news conference on his bid to lead the centre-left SPD party in Berlin, Germany, August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

The SPD, divided over whether it should remain in government, is searching for a new leader after Andrea Nahles quit in June in the wake of the party’s worst performance ever in May elections for the European Parliament.

Scholz, who had said last week he was ready to stand, announced on Tuesday that his partner would be Klara Geywitz, 43, a little-known figure in Germany but a prominent figure in the party in the state of Brandenburg.

“This is about finding new Social Democratic answers to new times,” wrote Scholz, 61, and Geywitz in a letter to the SPD.

“Our answer to rapid change must be more confidence and at the same time security. Germany must remain a dynamic country in which new jobs are created with new technologies,” they said.

As finance minister and deputy chancellor to Merkel, Scholz is a figurehead of the ‘grand coalition’. Geywitz was in the negotiating team that agreed the coalition deal with the conservatives. This combination, said commentators, pointed to a clear commitment to continuing the ‘grand coalition’.

Languishing in polls at around 13%-14%, just off all-time lows, the SPD is in turmoil and polls indicate it is poised to suffer further losses in elections in eastern German states, including in Brandenburg, this autumn. [L5N25G2IF]

As the highest-profile candidate for the SPD leadership so far, Scholz’s decision last week to stand drew much attention. However, a Civey poll for Spiegel Online last week showed that only 22% of SPD members back him as party leader.

A former mayor of Hamburg, Scholz is unpopular with the SPD’s left wing for sticking to strict fiscal rules introduced by his conservative predecessor as finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble.

However, candidates have until Sept. 1 to declare and until then it is hard to know who stands the best chance of winning.

Party members are due to vote on the leader in October and delegates are expected to reflect that result at a vote at a conference in December. The SPD is keen to have a dual leadership including a woman.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones

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