The Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in a grand coalition led by Angela Merkel, may seek to force a vote of no confidence and oust her as chancellor before the general elections.
Political insiders say the Social Democrats might rally the other left parties in parliament to oust Ms. Merkel, who has come under heavy fire for her open-door immigration policy, which many blame for the recent wave of terror attacks in Germany.
Though Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, are the single largest bloc in parliament, they don’t have an outright majority.
Taken together, the Social Democrats, the Green Party and the socialist Left Party have 10 more seats than their conservative rivals. In theory, the three left parties could use their slight majority to oust Ms. Merkel and make Mr. Gabriel chancellor.
Even though chancellor Angela Merkel's approval rating has tanked in the aftermath of the refugee crisis, Social Democrats still stand little chance of beating her outright in the 2017 general elections.
Last year, such a maneuver would have been dismissed as ludicrous. But voters have grown disillusioned with the grand coalition’s handling of the refugee crisis.
According to the pollster Emnid, 57 percent of Germans believe Ms. Merkel’s refugee policy has failed.
And the deal she struck with Turkey to slow the flow of refugees is cracking amid tensions with Ankara. If the deal collapses, the flow of refugees could pick up again, giving renewed political momentum to the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD.
The recent terrorist attacks carried out by two refugees in Bavaria have also driven a wedge between Ms. Merkel’s centrist Christian Democrats and the more conservative Christian Social Union.
But even though chancellor Angela Merkel’s approval rating has tanked in the aftermath of the refugee crisis, Social Democrats still stand little chance of beating her outright in the 2017 general elections.
According to the pollster Emnid, Ms. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats continue to lead the pack with 35 percent support while the center-left Social Democrats trail with 23 percent support.
And though her approval rating may have taken a hit, Ms. Merkel remains the people’s choice for chancellor, especially given the alternatives. With 48 percent support, she trounces Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel by 33 points, according to a recent Stern/RTL poll.
An important test for a coalition on the left will come this September when the city-state of Berlin and the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania vote in regional elections.
Jürgen Trittin, a heavyweight in the Green Party, hasn’t ruled out a Social Democrat, Left Party and Green coalition in the two states. In the eastern state of Thuringia, the three left parties are already governing together.
But there are historic divisions among the left in Germany. The Social Democrats view the pacifist Left Party as unreliable when it comes to foreign policy, and there are many Greens who would like to form a coalition with the Christian Democrats.
Meanwhile, Germany will elect a new president in February. Though the office is largely symbolic, it’s considered a bellwether for the general election. Volker Bouffier, a Christian Democrat, has been named as a potential candidate. And he currently governs the state of Hesse in a coalition with the Green Party.
Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt’s Berlin office. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org