State leader Saleh fails badly with the Berlin SPD

Members vote against Saleh
State leader fails badly at Berlin SPD

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The Berlin SPD is looking for a new party leadership. And even if the new duo has not yet been found, there is already clarity on one point: the incumbent chairman Saleh will not be there. Together with the district politician Lehmann, he suffered an electoral defeat.

The Berlin SPD is facing a spectacular change at the top. In the member survey about the future dual leadership, the incumbent state chairman and long-time Berlin SPD parliamentary group leader Raed Saleh, who ran together with the district politician Luise Lehmann from Marzahn-Hellersdorf, suffered a crushing defeat. The duo only got 15.65 percent, as co-state chairwoman Franziska Giffey announced after the count. She has been in office together with Saleh since November 2020 and did not run again.

The other two applicant duos are now facing a second round of voting because neither achieved an absolute majority. The team made up of Neukölln’s district mayor Martin Hikel and former state secretary Nicola Böcker-Giannini achieved the best result with around 48.2 percent, narrowly missing an absolute majority. The team made up of SPD state deputy Kian Niroomand and the former co-chair of the Berlin SPD women, Jana Bertels, got 36.1 percent and is also still in the race.

The second round of the member survey with the two best-placed teams will take place from May 2nd to 17th at 10 p.m. As in the first round of voting, around 18,000 members are called upon to cast their vote online or by post. In round one, participation was a meager 47.6 percent. Giffey was satisfied with this, but: “Of course you always wish for more.”

“Disappointing for us personally”

After the count, Hikel said that a new era was now ushering in the Berlin SPD. “The members voted against business as usual.” Bertels from the second team said the vote showed the desire of many Social Democrats for a restart of the party. “That would be possible with us.”

Both teams were united by the desire to take action against the establishment at the top of the party and to take new paths in order to bring the SPD, which has been weakening in elections for years, forward again. Programmatically they differ in a few ways. For example, Hikel and Böcker-Giannini questioned free daycare meals for all children, while Niroomand and Bertels spoke out against any changes.

Saleh and Lehmann were disappointed. “Our members made a clear decision in the first round of voting, which we accept with respect and responsibility,” both explained. “Of course, this clear result is disappointing for us personally, but as a party the soon-to-be clarity will strengthen us overall and allow us to concentrate and work together.”

Saleh and Giffey have led the SPD since November 2020. After Saleh’s defeat as party leader, the question now arises as to what will happen to the influential politician as parliamentary group leader in the House of Representatives. He has led the parliamentary group since 2011. “The vote here was on the state chairmanship and not on the House of Representatives parliamentary group,” said Giffey.

“The SPD has two good offers,” she added, referring to the remaining two duos. The SPD will also approach the second phase of the member survey with great concentration and will ultimately achieve a good result. “We are committed to ensuring that the SPD regains its strength,” she said. “And we advocate for a democratic city that is economically strong, lives up to its ecological responsibility, but never loses sight of social issues.” A “new departure” is good for that.

Berlin SPD fights against crisis

According to Giffey, member forums with the two teams are planned for May 7th and 14th during the new survey. The result of the second round of voting will then be counted on May 18th. The new dual leadership will be finally elected based on this result at a state party conference on May 25th. Although the members’ vote is not legally binding for the party conference, a different vote by the delegates is practically impossible.

There is unrest and uncertainty in the Berlin SPD because the election results have been going steadily downhill for many years. The preliminary highlight of this development was the repeat election to the Berlin House of Representatives in February 2023. The former People’s Party with Giffey as the top candidate achieved a historically poor result of 18.4 percent and ended up far behind the CDU and only a few votes ahead of the Greens.

After around six and a half years of alliance with the Greens and the Left, the party then entered into a coalition with the CDU – as a junior partner. Giffey, who only moved into the Red City Hall as Governing Mayor at the end of 2021, has since been working as an economics senator in the black-red Senate of her successor Kai Wegner from the CDU.

How divided the Berlin SPD is is made clear by the result of the member vote held before the coalition agreement was signed: Only a narrow majority of 54.3 percent voted for a joint government with the CDU. Participation at that time was around 62 percent. Since then, cooperation in the coalition has worked quite well. But there are still many critics of the alliance in the traditionally left-wing Berlin SPD.

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