Berlin gets first conservative mayor in more than two decades

By Sarah Marsh and Andreas Rinke

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin appointed its first conservative mayor in more than two decades on Thursday after the Christian Democrats (CDU) beat Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD) in a repeat election in February, dislodging its centre-left coalition.

Kai Wegner, 50, a former insurance salesman, was sworn in as mayor after a vote in local parliament, succeeding the SPD's Franziska Giffey who had been Berlin's first female mayor.

His CDU won a clear victory in February's election held after a court ruled the 2021 vote invalid due to irregularities. It won 28% of the vote, 10 percentage points more than in 2021, and also 10 percentage points more than the SPD, with surveys showing a waning sense of trust in the SPD's management of the city.

Wegner has struck deal to govern the capital in a grand coalition with the SPD despite misgivings on the left side of the party. Only 54% of the SPD base voted for the coalition.

It took three rounds of voting on Thursday for Wegner to cinch the nomination as mayor, with consternation by some lawmakers over the possibility it may have been the far-right AfD that helped get him seal the deal, as the AfD claimed.

The vote was confidential so it is impossible to independently verify their claim.

The SPD had previously governed the German capital in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and hard-left Die Linke.

Wegner campaigned on improving security and modernizing Berlin's administrative infrastructure amongst other measures.

Critics have accused his CDU party of dog-whistle politics. In January, the party asked the regional senate to provide information about the names of the German nationals detained in riots on New Year's Eve to try to establish their ethnic origins. The incident resurfaced debates on the treatment of migrants, integration, and media portrayals linking crime to migrants.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Sarah Marsh; Editing by Aurora Ellis)