Comeback for Olaf Scholz as his party names him German chancellor candidate

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz attends the German parliament's financial committee to report about the Wirecard case in Berlin, Germany

Germany’s Social Democrats proposed Olaf Scholz, the finance minister and their most high-profile and popular politician, to run to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year’s elections, when her fourth and final term is expected to end.

The decision marks a comeback for the former Hamburg mayor, who was last year defeated in the race to lead his party by two left-wing outsiders. Now, Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans have nominated their erstwhile rival.

“Now it’s official,” Scholz wrote on Twitter. “The party leadership have unanimously nominated me as chancellor candidate. I look forward to a fun, fair and successful campaign.”

But Scholz, who has been turned by the coronavirus crisis from an austere-minded custodian of the public purse to the free-spending paymaster in charge of massive stimulus and healthcare spending to sustain Europe’s largest economy through the pandemic, faces a stiff challenge.

The party, which for decades vied with Merkel’s Christian Democrats to dominate the political scene, has not won a national election since 2002 and now languishes a distant third in most polls behind the conservatives and the upstart Greens.

In what some saw as a recognition of this reality, party co-leader Walter-Borjans on Sunday conceded what had once been anathema: that alongside the Greens, the party would be open to govern in coalition with the Left party, heirs to the Communist Party of the former East Germany.

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