German Greens avoid split by re-electing leftist

HANOVER, Germany Sat Nov 17, 2012 5:44pm GMT

German Green Party leaders Claudia Roth (R) and Cem Oezdemir are surrounded by media after their re-election at the party convention of the Green Party in Hanover, November 17, 2012. Slogan is reading: ''Stay''. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

German Green Party leaders Claudia Roth (R) and Cem Oezdemir are surrounded by media after their re-election at the party convention of the Green Party in Hanover, November 17, 2012. Slogan is reading: ''Stay''.

Credit: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer

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HANOVER, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's Greens party re-elected its two party leaders on Saturday with overwhelming majorities that put to rest speculation of a schism between its centrist and left wings ahead of next year's election.

Claudia Roth, a left-winger defeated a week ago in her bid to become one of two lead candidates in 2013, was elected to another two years as party co-chair with 88.5 percent backing.

Cem Oezdemir, who represents the pragmatic or "realo" wing and has pushed the world's most successful environmentalist party to open itself to coalitions with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, was also re-elected with the votes of 83.3 percent of 766 delegates.

Although both ran unopposed, the level of support was considered an important indicator of the party's backing.

The Greens were junior coalition partners to the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) from 1998 to 2005. They hope for a return to government in another coalition next September -- preferably with the SPD again.

But they have opened themselves to a possible alliance with Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) -- an idea that was once anathema to what began as a peacenik ecological movement in the 1970s.

Roth considered bowing out of the leadership after she came fourth in the race to be the face of the Greens in the 2013 election. But her departure could have aggravated tensions with the party's left wing, which once ruled the roost but has been marginalised in recent years as the Greens try to win over voters in the middle.

"I'm not going to change my ways. And I'm not going to stop getting on everyone's nerves," Roth said before the vote.

Speculation about the Greens drifting towards the conservatives had been rampant in the last week after party members unexpectedly picked Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a leader in the Lutheran church, as their lead candidate instead of Roth.

Political analysts believe Goering-Eckardt can help the Greens poach conservative voters. But Roth's departure from the co-chair post could have hurt the party on the left.

Merkel's conservatives lead opinion polls with about 39 percent support but her junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), have fallen below the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats with only 4 percent.

The Greens poll around 13 percent and the SPD is on 30 percent. Polls also show most Germans favour another "grand coalition" between the conservatives and SPD.

(Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Jason Webb)

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