New faces revive SPD campaign

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BONN - In an attempt to breathe new life into an unhappy electoral campaign, Rudolf Scharping, leader of Germany's opposition Social Democrats (SPD), yesterday presented his team of 15 shadow ministers - including two of his most charismatic rivals in the party, who have so far remained aloof, writes Steve Crawshaw.

These are Gerhard Schroder, prime minister of the north-western state of Lower Saxony, and Oskar Lafontaine, who unsuccessfully challenged Helmut Kohl for the chancellorship in 1990. Mr Schroder gets the economics portfolio with Mr Lafontaine at finance.

By bringing Mr Schroder and Mr Lafontaine on board, the clear intended message is that the seriousness of Mr Scharping can be combined with the tough, no-nonsense approach of the two former rivals. SPD officials are also keen to emphasise the contrast between the SPD's collective troika and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the single and unchallenged Christian Democrat leader, on the other.

Whether all this will be enough to save the Social Democrats from electoral defeat is another matter. The party was ahead in the polls six months ago, but is now several percentage points behind. The presence of Mr Schroder and Mr Lafontaine may help recover some ground. But, with less than seven weeks before polling day on 16 October, there is a lot of catching up to do in a short time.