German SPD hopeful members will back Merkel coalition deal

The leader of Germany's centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) voiced confidence Friday that party members would support a 'grand coalition' with Chancellor Angela Merkel, as a party ballot passed a key hurdle.

"It looks good, the coalition agreement, all the SPD leadership thinks so, and therefore we are also sure that we'll get a good result," party chief Sigmar Gabriel was quoted as saying by national news agency DPA.

Gabriel, 54 -- who led weeks of wrangling with Merkel's conservatives to hammer out the deal, with the aim of forming a government before the end of the year -- posted his own ballot in his northern hometown of Goslar.

Around 475,000 SPD members have until December 12 to have their say on the pact, in which the party won several of its key demands, including for a national minimum wage.

By midday, around 200,000 ballots had been received, meaning the 20-percent quorum for the vote had easily been passed, said an email from SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles to party members that was seen by AFP.

The result is expected to be announced on December 14.

Gabriel and other SPD leaders have been racing to address regional party gatherings to drum up support for the left-right tie-up, which is viewed sceptically by some members after the party's last partnership with Merkel in 2005-09.

The SPD chief, who would become Merkel's vice chancellor, took the unprecedented step of pledging that the grassroots membership would have the final say in whether to again share power with Merkel's party.

Merkel romped to a third term in September 22 elections with 41.5 percent of the vote but fell just short of an outright majority, forcing her to court her main campaign rivals, who garnered just 25.7 percent, to govern Europe's top economy.