Merkel appears to clinch fresh term as Social Democrats okay coalition
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Merkel appears to clinch fresh term as Social Democrats okay coalition

After six-month standoff, Germany's longest period without government since WWII comes to an end following furious debate within center-left party

German Chancellor and party chairwoman Angela Merkel smiles at the party convention of the Christian Democratic Union in Berlin on February 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, file)
German Chancellor and party chairwoman Angela Merkel smiles at the party convention of the Christian Democratic Union in Berlin on February 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, file)

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s Social Democratic Party said Sunday its members have voted in favor of joining a coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc, clearing the last major hurdle to the formation of a new government and a fourth term for the veteran German chancellor.

The decision ends almost six months of uncertainty in German politics, the longest the country has been without a government in its post-war history.

The center-left Social Democrats had furiously debated whether to extend the so-called grand coalition for another four years after suffering a slump in September’s election. In the end, two-thirds of the valid votes cast by its 464,000 members favored a coalition deal, said party treasurer Dietmar Nietan, who oversaw the ballot.

“This was a really important democratic decision for our country,” acting party leader Olaf Scholz told reporters in Berlin. The Social Democrats will put forward six names — three women and three men — to lead the ministries they will control in the upcoming coalition in the coming days, he said.

Parliament is expected to meet next week to elect Merkel as chancellor.

Germany’s Social Democrats’ temporary party leader and Hamburg’s mayor Olaf Scholz, left, the faction leader in the Bundestag Andrea Nahles, right and Secretary General Lars Klingbeil, second from right, talk to volunteers at a machine which automatically opens envelopes with votes of the SPD member cast, at the party’s headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Activists at the Social Democrats’ headquarters in Berlin had worked through the night to count the votes. A “no” vote would have been a blow for the party’s leadership — who campaigned for members’ approval — and for Merkel, who spent months negotiating with rival parties to form a new government.

After September’s election, in which the Social Democrats received just 20.5 percent of the vote, then-leader Martin Schulz ruled out another grand coalition with Merkel. This forced Merkel to negotiate with two smaller parties, one of which eventually rejected a deal.

Pressure from German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier prompted Schulz to rethink and weeks of haggling between his party and Merkel’s bloc resulted in a coalition agreement. Fewer Social Democrats approved the deal this time round than in 2013, when 76 percent of members backed a government with Merkel.

Many Social Democrats, particularly on the left, had argued that the party failed to make its mark on the last government and wouldn’t benefit from propping up Merkel for another term.

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