Members of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) began voting on Tuesday on whether to enter a new coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives, a postal ballot which could scupper the chancellor’s chances of a fourth term in office. If the SPD’s nearly half a million members reject the deal, a new election or a minority government in Europe’s biggest economy is likely. Either would be a first for post-war Germany, now without a formal government for nearly five months. The result of the vote, which runs to March 2, is wide open and will be announced on March 4. That will be the same day Italy goes to the polls in a vote seen as too tough to call, as European politics splinter after years of austerity and waves of migrant arrivals from war-torn Syria and elsewhere.
Polls indicate a majority of SPD supporters back the deal with the Christian Democrats (CDU) but in the absence of any internal surveys it is unclear whether its members feel the same way.
The SPD’s leaders want the coalition to go ahead, but there is also strong opposition within the party grassroots.
The party has had a chaotic few weeks, plumbing record lows in opinion polls and sinking into a messy leadership change after a personal row between former leader Martin Schulz and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.