Germany: Armin Laschet elected leader of Angela Merkel's party

Germany: Armin Laschet elected leader of Angela Merkel's party”

Germany's dominant party voted for continuity on Saturday by electing Armin Laschet, a centrist regional premier, to succeed Angela Merkel, Europe's longest-serving leader.

There is no clear front-runner among the three candidates: Friedrich Merz, a 65-year-old who is more conservative than Merkel who has been in the private sector for about a decade; Armin Laschet, the 59-year-old governor of North Rhine-Westphalia who is viewed as likely to continue Merkel's centrist approach; and Norbert Roettgen, 55, who was sacked by Merkel as environment minister and calls himself a candidate for the "modern centre".

Laschet defeated Friedrich Merz, a conservative and one-time Merkel rival, at an online convention of the Christian Democratic Union.

In his candidacy speech, Laschet said the next CDU leader's task would be to earn trust for both himself and for the party and emphasised his ability to integrate all of its wings. A third candidate, Norbert Röttgen, was eliminated in the previous round.

Saturday's vote isn't the final word on who will run as the centre-right candidate for chancellor in Germany's September 26 election, but Laschet will either run for chancellor or will have a big say in who does.

Angela Merkel's designated successor Annegret Kramp-In February 2020, Karrenbauer announced that she will quit her role as head of the Germany's strongest party in summer and won't stand for the chancellorship.

The party leadership was supposed to have been settled in April.

The Thuringian election was one of the first state polls scheduled for 2021 and would have been closely watched as a test of the national mood heading into the post-Merkel era. Laschet will now have to work to secure party unity.

Laschet is now the leader of Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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He governs the region in a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats, the CDU's traditional ally, but would likely be able to work smoothly with a more liberal partner, too. Current polls point to the environmentalist Greens as a possible key to power in the election.

In contrast, Laschet pledged to continue with Merkel's more moderate course. "By polarizing, sowing discord and distrust, and systematically lying, a president has destroyed stability and trust".

"I don't believe that anything will change in global negotiations", she said during a press conference explaining her decision, adding that she would have more time to concentrate on her tasks as head of government.

"What we need is continuity of success", he said, in a direct rejection of Merz's vision. "This has always distinguished us as a governing party", added Merkel.

"I am aware of the responsibility associated with this office", Laschet said after winning the initial vote, which will only be confirmed after results from the formal postal ballot are counted next week.

Traditionally, the CDU leader spearheads the election campaign as chancellor candidate for the heavyweight party and its Bavarian-based allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The Union now has a healthy poll lead, helped by positive reviews of Merkel's handling of the pandemic.

CSU leader Markus Soeder, the governor of Bavaria, is widely considered a potential candidate after gaining in political stature during the pandemic.

A centrist, he had presented himself as the man with the best credentials to plough the same political furrow as the party's long-time leader Angela Merkel - and to run as its candidate for chancellor in federal elections in September.

Laschet, a miner's son who served as a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2005, shouldn't expect much of a honeymoon in his new job. This year also features six state elections, the first two in mid-March.

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