Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party shuffled its top leadership Tuesday, seeking to end internal squabbles and re-focus its members on passing an agreement to form a new government with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
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.
An INSA poll published on Tuesday showed the SPD at a record low of 16.5 percent, only 1.5 percentage points ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The turmoil in the SPD can only distract from criticism of Merkel from within her own party after she handed the foreign and finance ministries to the SPD to secure the coalition deal. The party's 464,000 party members will vote in a postal ballot on the deal, with the results expected to be announced on March 2. Gabriel said he also apologized to Schulz in person on Tuesday, the day when Schulz stepped down as head of the SPD.
The SPD has slid into disarray since its leaders struck the coalition deal last week, blighted by bitter divisions over whether to join the coalition, a loss of confidence in outgoing leader Martin Schulz and discontent over the succession process.
"It is clear to everyone that the chancellor is going into a last term", he told Deutschlandfunk radio, adding that she would "skilfully set in motion the succession in these four years".
Nahles, a plain-speaking 47-year-old former labor minister with a left-wing slant and strong oratory skills, is the frontrunner and would become the first female leader in the party's 154-year history. But he lamented the decision to give up the finance ministry to the SPD.
The SPD's 464,000 members vote in a postal ballot beginning on February 20 on whether the party should go ahead with the agreement its leaders clinched last week to renew their power sharing alliance with Merkel's conservative bloc.
As recently as Monday, SPD secretary general Lars Klingbeil reiterated a long-standing demand for a change in party statutes which would require a binding membership vote on the election of any leader rather than their selection by the party's elite leadership circle.
Handing over the leadership of the SPD may not be as simple as many in the party would like as resistance to Nahles is growing. Schulz proposed the head of SPD's parliamentary fraction, Andrea Nahles, as his successor, but it's now up to the party's congress to decide on its leadership.