Germany’s Social Democrats on Monday proposed Olaf Scholz, the finance minister and their most popular politician, to run to succeed Angela Merkel in next year’s national election, when her fourth and final term is expected to end.
The decision marks a comeback for the former Hamburg mayor, who was last year defeated by two left-wing outsiders in the race to lead their Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is the junior partner in Ms Merkel’s conservative-led ruling coalition.
“Now it’s official,” Mr Scholz wrote on Twitter. “The party leadership have unanimously nominated me as chancellor candidate. I look forward to a fun, fair and successful campaign.”
It is not yet clear who will be the conservatives’ candidate for chancellor. Ms Merkel has said she will not contest the next election after leading Germany since 2005.
Mr Scholz faces a stiff challenge. The SPD, which for decades vied with Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) for dominance of German politics, has not won a national election since 2002 and now languishes a distant third in most opinion polls behind the conservatives and the upstart Greens.
Mr Scholz is Germany’s third most popular politician behind Ms Merkel and one of her possible successors as CDU leader, health minister Jens Spahn.
The Social Democrats will be hoping that Mr Scholz’s transformation, during the coronavirus pandemic, from austere custodian of the public purse to free-spending paymaster in charge of a massive economic stimulus programme, will bolster their support in next year’s election.
“Olaf Scholz’s nomination is a good decision at the right time,” Gerhard Schroeder, Germany’s last SPD chancellor, told the Handelsblatt newspaper. Mr Schroeder left office in 2005 and has been a harsh critic of recent SPD leaders.
Mr Scholz was nominated as chancellor candidate by the SPD co-leaders, Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans.
In what some saw as a recognition of the steep challenge ahead for the SPD, Walter-Borjans on Sunday conceded what had once been inconceivable – that alongside the Greens, the party would be open to govern in coalition with the Left party, heirs to the Communist Party of the former East Germany.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies