Germany's centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) executive was set to meet on Tuesday, and was expected to appoint Andrea Nahles as its first female leader after Martin Schulz stood down amid turmoil in the party over a new coalition deal.
"With my resignation from office and decision not to participate in the government, I want to bring the personnel debate in the SPD to an end so that the members can really concentrate on what is in the coalition agreement", Schulz told reporters.
"I will defend the idea of joining the big coalition, I will do all it takes to achieve this, "said Nahles, whose party, however, disagrees about joining a new large coalition of conservatives". Martin Schulz said last week he would quit as leader so the party could reinvent itself, and urged members to back parliamentary floor leader Andrea Nahles as his successor.
Results of the SPD ballot are due on March 4. "No more indiscipline in the SPD", said Ralf Stegner, the regional SPD leader in Schleswig-Holstein. Many SPD rank and file members harbour serious misgivings about entering into a new government with Merkel again.
An extraordinary party congress will be held on April 22 to pick a new leader, likely Nahles.
"There is no constitutional basis for such a move in our statues", Baumann-Hasske noted, adding that it would hence be impossible for Nahles to make "significant decisions" including with regards to party finances.
GETTYMartin Schulz announces his resignation to party officials
In a cartoon on Tuesday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily showed Nahles with a whip riding an SPD snail.
Schulz has also been criticized by fellow SPD politician and current Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for pursuing the post.
That leaves open who from within the SPD may take up that post. The SPD was at a record low of 16.5 percent, barely ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Under Schulz, a former European Parliament president who became SPD leader just over a year ago, the party garnered 20.5 percent in September's election, its worst result in the post-war era. 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.
They argue that the SPD needs to go into opposition to rebuild its identity and reconnect with voters, because at the moment too little divides Germany's two largest parties.