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German SPD party reshuffles leadership, with eye on election
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08:54, September 08, 2008

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Germany's Social Democratic Party ( SPD), a major party of the country and a junior partner within Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition government, reshuffled its leadership at a leaders' meeting near Berlin on Sunday, aiming to achieve more at the federal election next year.

The party nominated Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as the candidate to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel for the chancellorship in next year's election, the SPD announced after the meeting, held at Werder, south-west of Berlin on Sunday.

Kurt Beck, a long-serving premier of Rhineland-Palatinate who led the SPD since 2006, resigned as chairman at the meeting, and Steinmeier is to serve as interim chairman of the party until the SPD formally votes on the issue at an extraordinary general meeting, to be held in the weeks ahead.

Former SPD chairman Franz Muentefering has revealed his intention to come back, and he is widely considered as the top candidate for the party's new chairman.

Speaking to the press conference, Steinmeier spoke highly of the reshuffle of the SPD, saying that his party was better equipped than many believed and was ready for the election campaign.

"We do not want anyone to be marginalized in our society," Steinmeier said, signaling the party's ambition in next year's election.

Steinmeier has long enjoyed more popularity than Beck at the polls, so there is no surprise among local media that Beck yielded to Steinmeier as the party's candidate for chancellorship.

Muentefering, aged 68, resigned as deputy chancellor last year to take care of his ailing wife.

Following his wife's death, Muentefering, who was SPD chairman in 2004-2005, signaled his intention to come back earlier this year.

Germany's federal election will be held on Sept. 27, 2009, and Chancellor Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc and Steinmeier's SPD are traditionally two major rivals at the election.

The latest polls show that the SPD gets around 25 percent support among the general public while Merkel's conservative Christian CDU/ CSU bloc wins 35 percent support.

Earlier on Saturday when the news of the SPD's possible reshuffle was known, Merkel lashed out at the SPD, dubbing the party "unreliable".

Merkel also extended her hope that the CDU/CSU will be able to form a coalition with the minority liberal party FDP following next year's election.


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