Martin Schulz resigns as head of Germany's Social Democrats

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As Germany's Social Democrat Party of Germany (SPD) heads into an unexpected period of transition after its former head Martin Schulz shocked many by stepping down at the weekend, the leadership of the party now appears to be in the hands of Andrea Nahles.

"I depart this office without bitterness or resentment", he said, nearly a year after he was elected as SPD party head with 100 percent of the vote.

Seeking to restore order, Schulz resigned with immediate effect on Tuesday and party leaders installed Scholz as caretaker SPD chairman.

With many SPD members harboring misgivings about sharing power with Merkel again, the result of the vote, due on March 4, is wide open.

Amid deep rank-and-file divisions over the coalition deal and the distribution of ministerial posts, and facing a slump in opinion polls, SPD leaders are trying to convince 464,000 party members to endorse the accord with Merkel in a ballot on which her fourth term depends.

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An SPD member since she was 18, Nahles is credited with helping to swing her divided party behind agreeing to take up the coalition talks with a passionate speech at a special party conference in January.

Many party members were angered that Schulz would consider becoming foreign minister after he previously stated he would not serve in a government under Angela Merkel.

Michael Mueller, head of the SPD in Berlin and mayor of the German capital, told the newspaper "Berliner Morgenpost" that he did not reject Nahles' candidacy for the leadership as such, but was in favor of a "clean process" as established by the party constitution.

Schulz's own plans were becoming a major distraction for the SPD. Mr Schulz secured six ministries in a new government for the SPD, including finance, foreign and labour, giving the Social Democrats a critical role in shaping Berlin's policy on Europe over the next four years. After fierce criticism from some former allies, Schulz ditched plans to take the post of foreign minister. The former European Parliament president said last Wednesday that he planned to become Germany's next foreign minister - a risky move given that, after the election, he had explicitly ruled out entering Merkel's next cabinet. The SPD was at a record low of 16.5 percent, barely ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Similarly, the SPD regional branch in Schleswig-Holstein urged the party leadership not to nominate Nahles as leader just yet.