Olaf Scholz, the German finance minister, has kept alive his hopes of winning the leadership of the Social Democratic party, after he and his co-candidate won the first round of voting with the backing of 22.7 per cent of the party base.

Mr Scholz and his co-candidate Klara Geywitz, a regional politician from eastern Germany, entered the race as continuity candidates with strong support from the centrist party establishment. Both are seen as firm supporters of the SPD's grand coalition with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, suggesting that a victory for Mr Scholz and Ms Geywitz would probably help the veteran chancellor see out a full term until 2021.

However, the duo will now enter a run-off with Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, a team that represents the party left, and that took 21 per cent of the vote. A victory for their candidacy could raise the pressure on the SPD to abandon the coalition government with Ms Merkel, which has long been unpopular with left-wingers inside the party.

The result of the second round of voting will be revealed on 29 November, ahead of a full party conference in early December.

It is only the second time in the party's 156-year history that the SPD has allowed rank-and-file members to pick a new leadership. According to the official count released on Saturday evening, 226.775 members cast their ballot, or 53 per cent of the party base

In a break with tradition, the SPD had urged candidates for the leadership to run as two-person teams - emulating a model pioneered by Germany's Green party. The decision to split the role reflects the Social Democrats' desire to broaden its appeal and promote women, but also highlights a widespread concern that the task of reviving the SPD's fortunes is too big a task for any individual.

Battered by poor election results and bitter infighting, the party is currently polling about 14 per cent, far behind Ms Merkel's CDU but also behind the Greens. It has been without a proper leader since June, when Andrea Nahles resigned from the post in frustration.

The causes of the party's recent demise are the subject of fierce internal debate. One widely held view is that the SPD's profile has become blurred as a result of the party's repeated decision to join forces with Ms Merkel's conservative bloc. During the recent campaign for the SPD leadership, several candidates had called openly for an immediate break-up of the coalition government.


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