BERLIN (REUTERS) - A leading Social Democrat on Saturday (March 3) predicted 55 per cent or more of Social Democratic Party (SPD) members would back a renewed coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, and warned that a 'no' vote would spell disaster for the party, Germany and Europe.
Thomas Oppermann, vice president of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, told Die Welt newspaper that he expected a "clear approval" rate of 55 per cent in an SPD postal ballot that ended on Friday, with results to be unveiled on Sunday.
The SPD's 464,000 members must vote on whether to endorse a decision by party leaders to continue the "grand coalition" with Merkel's conservative bloc that has ruled since 2013 despite the SPD's significant losses in the September national election.
Rejection of another tie-up with conservatives "would be a disaster for Germany, the SPD and above all, for Europe," Oppermann said.
The SPD's Jusos youth wing has been lobbying party members to vote against a re-run of the grand coalition, arguing they would do better to rebuild in opposition after the party suffered its worst results since 1993 in the September poll.
Oppermann gave the Jusos credit for triggering a big debate in the party, and said he expected its leader, Kevin Kuehnert, to continue to make his mark on the party.
He said the SPD needed to be more "self-confident, cheeky and ready for conflict" in the next coalition government.
"The biggest risk would be that we repeat what we did the last time," he said, warning that a passive SPD stance could result in even worse election results after four years.
The SPD initially planned to stay in opposition, but agreed to negotiate with Merkel's conservatives after talks with the pro-business Free Democrats (FD) and the environmentalist Greens on a three-way tie-up collapsed in November.
FDP leader Christian Lindner told the Funke Mediengruppe newspaper chain, that new elections would be the best solution if SPD members voted 'no.'
He ruled out revisiting a three-way coalition, given the platforms of the parties involved.
He said the FDP would examine legislative proposals on a case-by-case basis if Merkel was forced to form a minority government, but added: "Such a government would probably only last a few months anyway."
Manfred Weber, deputy leader of the CSU Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats, also backed new elections if SPD members rejected another 'grand coalition,' arguing that a minority government would impair Germany's standing in Europe.
"Germany would remove itself as a serious factor in Europe and the world," he said.