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BERLIN: Germany’s governing Social Democrats on Saturday elected a centrist and a left-wing figurehead as its two new leaders, days after their election candidate Olaf Scholz was sworn in as chancellor.

The SPD returned to government following their victory in September’s election, forming an unprecedented three-party coalition with the Greens and business-friendly Free Democrats after ex-chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure ended.

SPD activists voted for Lars Klingbeil, a centrist close to Scholz, and Saskia Esken, who has served as the party’s co-president for two years and represents its left wing.

Klingbeil received 86.3 percent of votes and Esken 76.7 percent in a mostly virtual SPD congress in Berlin, with numbers limited due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The SPD’s return to power was initially deemed unlikely, but it emerged from this year’s poll with the most votes and seats in Germany’s federal parliament.

Half of the SPD’s MPs are new to parliament and a quarter are younger than 35, symbolising the party’s renewal after years in the wilderness.

“A victory in the legislative elections isn’t enough for me. We must continue on this path,” Klingbeil, 43, told party delegates.

“I want to lead the SPD towards a new strength, a new pride,” added Esken, 60.

Klingbeil, who replaces outgoing leader Norbert Walter-Borjans, has served as the SPD’s general secretary for four years and is viewed as a key actor in the SPD’s electoral revival.

He is credited with uniting the SPD’s different factions behind Scholz for the election and soothing internal divisions.

Kevin Kuehnert, a longtime rival to Scholz and member of the SPD’s left wing, is due to become the party’s next general secretary.

The SPD faces tests in four regional elections next year.

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