Germany centre-left party set to confirm first female leader

Germany's Schulz steps down to ease tensions within SPD

As Germany's Social Democrat Party of Germany (SPD) heads into an unexpected period of transition after its former head Martin Schulz shocked many by stepping down at the weekend, the leadership of the party now appears to be in the hands of Andrea Nahles.

The party leadership reversed course Tuesday and said they were nominating Nahles to run for election as chairwoman at a special party congress on April 22. SPD members will vote on the coalition deal next month - the result is expected on 4 March. SPD sources said Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz will be interim leader.

The move comes ahead of a ballot of the SPD's 464,000 members, who get the chance to veto a coalition deal agreed last week with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

In his resignation, Schulz gave his endorsement to parliamentary group leader Andrea Nahles for a leadership election that will take place on April 22nd.

But hopes she could immediately become provisional SPD leader were dashed by anger in the SPD base at what many saw as a leadership backroom deal rather than an open vote.

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Schulz, 62, ditched plans to take the post of foreign minister after fierce criticism from some former allies, not least because he had pledged not to serve in a cabinet with Merkel. He told German news agency, "Die Welt", that "there no statutory basis exists in the SPD's rules that allows for the appointment of a new party leader".

The chairman of the Association of Social Democratic Lawyers in the SPD, Harald Baumann-Hasske, also brought up the legality of appointing a new chair, per the party's charter.

"Each of us would be well advised to put the interest of the party and the country before their own ambitions". Sigmar Gabriel, the serving foreign minister, attacked him in a newspaper interview for taking his job. "But I think the whole situation is not only bad for the SPD, it's a bad situation for all parties because people lose more and more trust in political parties".

In a cartoon on Tuesday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily showed Nahles with a whip riding an SPD snail.

Among supporters of Merkel's Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) - with whom the SPD are poised to form a with coalition government - 71.6 percent were critical of the SPD's ability to govern. German media cited a letter by Lange to the SPD leadership in which she called on the party to open itself up to a truly democratic debate over its future orientation.

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