Germany's Social Democrats vote to join 'grand coalition' with Angela Merkel
Germany's main centre-left party cleared the way yesterday for Angela Merkel to start her third term as chancellor, announcing that its members had voted by a large majority to join the conservative leader in government.
The ballot of the Social Democrats' nearly 475,000 members capped Germany's longest effort to form a government since the second world war. It set the stage for parliament to re-elect Merkel on Tuesday - ending nearly three months of post-election political limbo in Europe's biggest economy.
Some 76 per cent of members who took part approved a deal to form a "grand coalition" government of right and left under Merkel and about 24 per cent voted against.
"What we want to do now is to show the 24 per cent over the next four years that the 76 per cent were right," party leader Sigmar Gabriel said. He added that the party had shown a great "sense of responsibility" to the country.
Merkel's conservatives won September 22 elections but fell short of a majority and saw their previous pro-business coalition partners lose their parliamentary seats - forcing them to reach across the aisle for new allies.
In an effort to counter members' strong initial resistance to working again with their traditional rivals, Gabriel took what appeared the risky move of pledging an unprecedented ballot of the party's full membership on any coalition deal.
Gabriel and other leaders toured Germany over recent weeks to sell to members the deal Social Democrats and conservatives hammered out last month.
It featured key centre-left demands including the introduction of Germany's first mandatory national minimum wage, at €8.50 (HK$91) an hour, and a change to the pension system that will allow some longtime workers to retire at 63 on full pensions.
However, Germany's position in Europe's debt crisis will remain largely unchanged and Merkel's conservatives refused to raise taxes for high earners. A conference of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union approved the coalition deal on Monday.