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A political earthquake hit Germany on Tuesday with Sigmar Gabriel’s resignation as leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Mr Gabriel, party chairman since 2009, has proposed ex-European Parliament president Martin Schulz as his successor – and de facto challenger to chancellor Angela Merkel in the autumn federal election.
In a surprise announcement that shocked even senior SPD allies, Mr Gabriel described himself as more of a political liability than an asset to his party as Germany enters election season.
“If I ran, then I would fail and, with me, the SPD,” he told party insiders. “The party has to believe in its candidate and gather behind them.”
After mulling his future for six months, Mr Gabriel made up his mind to go after a private poll of SPD members showed Mr Schulz (61) as the more popular man to hinder a fourth Merkel term. He is likely to switch from economics to the foreign ministry.
Mr Gabriel, in comparison, has long been viewed as a mercurial and unpredictable figure. Just 19 per cent of voters backed him to challenge Dr Merkel in a public television poll last month, compared with 36 per cent for Mr Schulz.