Merkel loy­al­ist wins party lead­er­ship bat­tle

Gulf Times - - FRONT PAGE -

An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, a close ally of An­gela Merkel, won a tight race to suc­ceed her as party leader yes­ter­day, see­ing off a long­time ri­val of the Ger­man chan­cel­lor. The con­test, which re­quired a runoff vote to se­cure a 52% ma­jor­ity for AKK as she is known, is ex­pected to in­crease the like­li­hood that Merkel will be able to see out her fourth term un­til 2021. AKK, 56, pledged to main­tain con­ti­nu­ity af­ter 18 years of Merkel at the helm while open­ing up the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union (CDU) to more grass­roots democ­racy.

Ger­many’s Chris­tian Democrats (CDU) said a big thank you yes­ter­day to An­gela Merkel, their leader for the past 18 years, with warm words and long ap­plause, and pre­sent­ing her with a con­duc­tor’s ba­ton as they elected her pro­tégé to suc­ceed her.

Merkel, a Lutheran who grew up in the for­mer Com­mu­nist East where she moved when she was an in­fant, has al­ways been some­thing of an out­sider in the male­dom­i­nated, Catholic party.

But her record of win­ning four elec­tions can­not be de­nied and was not lost on CDU mem­bers.

Wav­ing orange cards with the slo­gan “Thank you boss”, del­e­gates cheered as Merkel, 64, walked onto the stage at the con­fer­ence cen­tre in Ham­burg, her birth­place, to end an era for the party.

“We have had very suc­cess­ful years with An­gela Merkel. She has led us for many years in gov­ern­ment and that is the goal of a party,” said Ju­lia Kloeck­ner, a deputy party leader.

“We need you as chan­cel­lor,” Kloeck­ner told the con­fer­ence.

As chan­cel­lor of Europe’s big­gest econ­omy since 2005, Merkel has been the most in­flu­en­tial leader in the Euro­pean Union through the eu­ro­zone and mi­grant crises.

Forbes mag­a­zine has re­peat­edly named her the world’s most pow­er­ful woman.

She plans to stay on as chan­cel­lor un­til the next fed­eral elec­tion, due by Oc­to­ber 2021.

The choice of An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, dubbed mini-Merkel, as her suc­ces­sor makes that a likely sce­nario.

“Merkel does not show much emo­tion her­self but above all we re­spect her and want to show grat­i­tude to her,” said To­bias Loose, a del­e­gate from the north­ern state of Sch­leswig Hol­stein.

“I ex­pect her to re­main chan­cel­lor and even see her be­come a big­ger star, es­pe­cially in­ter­na­tion­ally, as she sounds freer to say what she wants,” he added.

All the same, Merkel, a physi­cist, was fight­ing back tears when she gave a fi­nal speech as party leader, draw­ing a nearly 10 minute stand­ing ova­tion.

“It has been a great plea­sure for me, it has been an hon­our,” the chan­cel­lor said, adding it was time for a new chap­ter.

Her pop­u­lar­ity has waned since her 2015 open-doors mi­grant pol­icy and the CDU has suf­fered heavy elec­toral losses at the state level.

Af­ter los­ing sup­port in the 2017 fed­eral elec­tion, she strug­gled to forge a coali­tion which has been dogged by rows in the last six months.

She an­nounced her de­ci­sion to stand down as party leader in Oc­to­ber.

But yes­ter­day was a day to cel­e­brate Merkel’s longevity.

As lines from The Kinks song blared out “Thank you for the days”, Volker Bouffier, premier of the state of the west­ern state of Hesse, in­tro­duced a film of Merkel’s best mo­ments.

Show­ing pic­tures of her laugh­ing and gri­mac­ing, look­ing stern and hav­ing self­ies taken with refugees at the height of the 2015 mi­grant cri­sis, the film thanked her for her hu­mour, her hu­man­ity and char­ac­ter.

Point­ing to her stamina and po­lit­i­cal nouse, Bouffier pointed out that the Ham­burg soc­cer club had been through 24 train­ers and her ri­val So­cial Democrats 10 chair­peo­ple in the 18 years Merkel had led the CDU.

In a per­sonal touch, he gave the mu­sic-lov­ing chan­cel­lor the ba­ton that Ja­panese con­duc­tor Kent Nagano had used at a con­cert of Beethoven’s 9th Sym­phony per­formed at last year’s Group of 20 sum­mit in Ham­burg.

Even Horst See­hofer, the for­mer premier of Bavaria who has been a thorn in her side for years and nearly brought down her coali­tion in the sum­mer due to a row over mi­grant pol­icy, found kind words for her: “She is the best. We will all miss her.”

“When you have gone through as much as An­gela Merkel and me, you are bound to­gether. There is even af­fec­tion,” he told Der Spiegel weekly.

Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer won a tight run-off vote to suc­ceed the chan­cel­lor.

Of the 999 votes cast at a party con­fer­ence in Ham­burg, 517 or 52% were in favour of Kram­pKar­ren­bauer, while 482 (48%) backed Friedrich Merz, a mil­lion­aire cor­po­rate lawyer who had been at­tempt­ing a come­back af­ter be­ing side­lined by Merkel nearly a decade ago.

Se­cur­ing the CDU top job rep­re­sents a ma­jor step to­wards be­com­ing chan­cel­lor once Merkel bows out of power in 2021.

The third can­di­date, Health Min­is­ter Jens Spahn, was elim­i­nated in the first round of vot­ing ear­lier yes­ter­day.

The CDU’s sec­re­tary gen­eral, Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer made her case ahead of the vote by say­ing the CDU had to main­tain its po­si­tion as the “last uni­corn in Europe”, the bloc’s last suc­cess­ful catch-all party.

She also re­jected claims that she was the “mini Merkel”.

“Peo­ple con­sider me a ‘mini,’ a copy, a sim­ple ‘more of the same’, but I can tell you that I stand here as my own per­son, just as life has shaped me and of that I am proud,” she told del­e­gates at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence.

The 56-year-old for­mer state premier gained the nick­name be­cause of her prag­matic cen­trist po­lit­i­cal style and her rep­u­ta­tion as a Merkel loy­al­ist.

Merz, a for­mer CDU heavy­weight who has re­peat­edly vowed to win back vot­ers from the far­right Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) party, said the fact that the AfD is Ger­many’s largest op­po­si­tion party is “sim­ply un­bear­able” and has to change.

“It threat­ens not only our abil­ity to form a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity, but also the very sta­bil­ity of our coun­try,” he said. “We need a strat­egy change in re­la­tion to our com­peti­tors and in terms of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion with peo­ple in our coun­try.”

The AfD dis­missed Kram­pKar­ren­bauer’s elec­tion as a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Merkel years.

“Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer means: More of the same! It’s Merkel 2.0,” said an AfD par­lia­men­tary leader Alice Wei­del yes­ter­day.

One of Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer’s early tests is likely to help sta­bilise the CDU’s frag­ile coali­tion with the cri­sis-hit cen­tre-left So­cial Democrats (SPD).

How­ever, SPD leader An­drea Nahles quickly of­fered Kram­pKar­ren­bauer the op­por­tu­nity to work closely to­gether and to con­tinue the CDU-SPD coali­tion gov­ern­ment in Berlin with the Chris­tian So­cial Union (CSU), the CDU’s Bavar­ian sis­ter party.

“Now it is time to solve prob­lems: se­cur­ing the fu­ture of pen­sions, recog­nis­ing the value of work, strength­en­ing co­he­sion in Europe,” Nahles said.

Merkel with CDU sec­re­tary gen­eral Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer at the start of the party congress at a fair hall in Ham­burg.

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