Published: Fri, December 07, 2018
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

German conservatives to replace Merkel with Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as party head

German conservatives to replace Merkel with Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as party head

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday offered a staunch defence of her moderate course during 18 years as party leader, as her Christian Democratic Union chose between a loyal deputy and a long-time rival to succeed her. The politician is a supporter of the German Chancellor's policies and has been often referred to as Mrs Merkel's "protege" or even "Mini Merkel".

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, a Merkel ally, said: "I am convinced that with Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, we have the best chance of the CDU winning an election", adding she would be the most risky candidate to face the centre-left Social Democrats and the ecologist Greens.

By contrast, Mr Merz takes clear positions that appeal to rank-and-file party members hungry for a more clearly defined party after 13 years under Dr Merkel as chancellor.

As the party's general secretary, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer was favourite to take over when Mrs Merkel announced her retirement in October. The choice of leader also has more immediate implications for the future survival of Germany's biggest party, which has been struggling with an identity crisis, as well as Merkel's chances of serving out the rest of her term until 2021. What she has said about the Merkel era became something of a slogan for her candidacy: "One cannot arbitrarily continue in the same vein, neither can one dismiss it". More generous family leave, an exit from nuclear power and an end to military conscription were among her signature policies.

Party insiders say she gets on well with Merkel. Federal health minister Jens Spahn came in third. "Merz could be tempted to see his revenge and lunge for power (as soon as next year)".

Mr Merz, 63, who lost out to Dr Merkel in a power struggle in 2002 and is returning to politics after a decade in business, is backed by CDU members exhausted of Dr Merkel's consensual politics.

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National broadsheet Sueddeutsche Zeitung said Schaeuble's move signalled that the CDU's long-festering divisions, thinly veiled by unity behind Merkel, could well break out in the open after the conference.

Earlier, an emotional Merkel bowed out as party leader, telling the congress: "It has been a great pleasure for me, it has been an honour". "The chemistry is good", said one senior CDU official.

Few observers have dared to predict how the 1,000 delegates - political and party office holders - will vote.

It has lost support to the right, in the form of the upstart anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, and the resurgent Greens.

Whoever wins will face towering challenges for the party, which is now drawing roughly 30% at the polls, far below the around 40% it enjoyed during Merkel's heyday. Kirsten Dunz, author of book about Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

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