February 19, 2018
SPD divided over grand coalition
The SPD's referendum will start tomorrow - with results due on March 4. We urge readers to ignore any comments at this stage that express probabilities of one side or the other winning. This looks like a close contest, and the outcome will depend on events that will be unfolding in the next two weeks. Both sides have everything to play for.
It is generally true that the more senior SPD representatives - mayors, and deputies in federal, state, and local legislatures - tend to favour the grand coalition, while activists tend to be more opposed. It is at this stage hard to say how the terrible opinion polls will shape the views of SPD members, and how they view the cause of the party's decline. If they believe, as we do, that consecutive grand coalitions have deprived the SPD of their own identity, they may well risk an election defeat if this would bring about a renewal. But it is a risky choice that some members might not want to make.
Suddeutsche Zeitung writes this morning that there is now a campaign by SPD members in North-Rhine Westphalia, which accounts for a quarter of the votes, against the grand coalition. This campaign has its own website - nogroko.de - and encompasses senior SPD members in the state legislature, as well as members of the party's executive committee in the state. Four years ago, 75% of members voted in favour of the grand coalition, but there was no contest then. The opponents are now much better organised, and they also get TV airtime. The head of the young socialists, Kevin Kuhnert, was on TV last night telling SPD members that a vote against the grand coalition would not trigger new elections but lead to a minority government. That's a potentially interesting argument because Angela Merkel and the SPD leadership cannot credibly defuse it. If Merkel were to rule it out categorically, President Steinmeier could nominate another CDU candidate as leader of a minority government. In the final round of voting, that person would only require a relative majority against other candidates. If there is no CDU candidate, he could nominate an SPD candidate, and thus force the CDU to put forth their own candidate. A minority government might not last the full term, and it might lead to a renewed attempt at a Jamaica coalition, possibly under a different leader.