Merkel’s preferred candidate to become leader of CDU after nail-biting vote
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a staunchly Catholic conservative career politician, has been elected as the successor to Angela Merkel as leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats.
Kramp-Karrenbauer won by 25 votes after a nail-biting second round runoff against her main opponent, the multimillionaire businessman, Friedrich Merz.
Kramp-Karrenbauer said she would accept the post, and thanked the party for its support and trust in her, insisting she would give new impetus to the party as it seeks to claw back the millions of voters it has lost to rightwing populists and the Greens.
“We should harness the boost this competition has given us, and use it to propel the party’s success,” she said.
Dubbed a mini-Merkel – a title she is determined to discard – Kramp-Karrenbauer was not officially endorsed by the chancellor, but was clearly her favourite, having been propelled by her to the position as the party’s general secretary in February.
In a veiled sign of her support, Merkel made a point of praising Kramp-Karrenbauer for her contribution to the CDU’s electoral success during a valedictory speech to the party on Friday morning.
The result is seen as making it more likely that Merkel will be able to see out her fourth term until 2021. She has expressed her determination to stay on as chancellor for the remaining three years of her term in office and 56% of Germans support her decision to do so, polls show.
Kramp-Karrenbauer was ahead in the first round of voting, securing 45% or 450 votes, and went on to win 517 votes in the second. The vote followed a dramatic contest resulting from Merkel’s announcement in late October that she was stepping down as head of the party but intended to continue as chancellor until the next elections.
Merz, 63, an economics lawyer who had been ousted from the post of parliamentary leader of the CDU by Merkel in 2002, received 482 votes in the second round, and 392 in the first.
He had taken the party by surprise after parachuting in from his job in the banking industry, insisting he could win back many of the millions of voters the party has lost to rightwing populism. His supporters said Merz would have been the more courageous option because he was determined to take the party away from the centre ground where Merkel had firmly taken it during her 18 years at the helm.
The vote marks a new era for the party, founded in 1945, which has provided Germany with a chancellor for 50 of the last 70 years. Merkel told party faithful yesterday it was “time for a change”.
Kramp-Karrenbauer – or AKK as she is popularly known – will now be viewed as a potential future chancellor if the CDU wins the next election in 2021. The self-professed strict Catholic, who has served as the state leader of Saarland and before that was its interior minister, has a total of 18 years’ leadership experience, all of which stood her in good stead to win the vote.
The third candidate in the running, Jens Spahn, 38, refused to withdraw his candidature, despite pressure from party colleagues to do so when it was clear support for him was weak. Spahn, who was made health minister in Merkel’s government six months ago, had been considered a frontrunner to succeed Merkel for several years but was pushed aside when Merz decided to throw his hat into the ring and won the support of party heavyweights, such as the president of the Bundestag. Spahn secured a higher than expected result of 175 votes out of 999, but was not eligible for the second round.
More than 1,000 party delegates were eligible to vote on what was described as the most momentous decision for the party in nearly 50 years and one that will decide the future direction not only of the CDU, but also of their country and their continent.
Kramp-Karrenbauer told party delegates she was “not a mini version” of Merkel, but her “own person”.
‘I am not a mini version of Merkel ... I am my own person’ Kramp-Karrenbauer CDU leader
▲ Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer narrowly beat her main opponent, the businessman Friedrich Merz