BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's rival Martin Schulz, has said he wants to stay on as leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) even if his party loses in a federal election next month.
His comments, which appeared to show Schulz contemplating defeat in the Sept. 24 vote, raised eyebrows even though polls put the centre-left party trailing Merkel's conservatives by 12-18 points. The SPD is currently junior partner in Merkel's right-left coalition.
"I will of course seek re-election at the next party conference," Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament said at an event hosted by the RND group of regional newspapers when asked what he would do in the event of defeat.
"The SPD can use a rhythm of longer terms for its leaders," he said in comments released on Tuesday.
Schulz was elected leader by 100 percent of delegates at a party conference in March. Soon after he was nominated at the end of January, the SPD jumped more than 10 points in the polls but has since slipped back to its previous level.
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Merkel, who has recovered from a dip in personal ratings caused by voter fears about the 2015 migrant crisis, looks on track to win a fourth term. For many observers, the biggest question is who her partner will be.
Another 'grand coalition' is one possible outcome but there are other options. Some polls have even suggested that the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) could win sufficient votes to form a centre-right alliance.
The SPD suffered a blow on Monday when its premier in the state of Lower Saxony was forced to call a vote three months early after a Greens lawmaker defected to the conservatives, robbing the centre-left government of its majority.
(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Richard Balmforth)