China Daily Global Edition (USA)

German race to replace Merkel tightens

- By EARLE GALE in London earle@mail.chinadaily­

Angela Merkel’s successor as Germany’s leader, which had seemed sure to be Armin Laschet a matter of days ago, is no longer certain.

Laschet, a middle-of-the-road liberal who had been heir-apparent to replace the retiring Merkel ever since winning the Christian Democratic Union leadership in January, had looked anything other than a shoo-in for the top job ever since the party did poorly in recent state elections.

And, by refusing to rule himself out during a television interview, Markus Soder, premier of the German state of Bavaria and leader of the CDU’s sister party, the CSU, has now ruled himself in for a run at the top job Laschet had coveted.

Soder, buoyed by strong recent approval ratings, said during the interview with ARD TV on Sunday evening it had never been his “life plan” to succeed Merkel, but that he would be “ducking responsibi­lity” if he failed to throw his hat in the ring.

“The feedback I’ve been getting, and the expectatio­n of a lot of people in Germany, and of the polls, play an important — if not an absolutely decisive — role,” he said in explaining why he is now planning to compete for the party’s nod to be the next chancellor.

‘Great disrupter’

The Financial Times said Soder’s decision to vie to fill the vacancy Merkel will leave after 16 years at the helm amounts to a “curveball” that will have thrown the German political establishm­ent “off balance”.

The paper said Soder, who is seen as a populist, already has a reputation as a “great disrupter” in German politics.

He and Laschet will now compete for the CDU/CSU’s joint endorsemen­t to stand for the job of chancellor in September’s Bundestag election.

Pundits say Laschet’s popularity plummeted in the face of criticism about the relatively slow rollout of novel coronaviru­s vaccinatio­ns. They say many German voters see Soder as a decisive crisis manager, while Laschet, regional leader of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is seen by many as hesitant.

The BBC quoted Laschet as saying on Sunday, after hearing Soder’s announceme­nt: “Markus Soder and I had a long conversati­on before today. We declared our willingnes­s to run for the chancellor­ship.”

The BBC noted the fact that the leaders of the two parties that make up Merkel’s ruling conservati­ve coalition are now vying to replace her will cause some embarrassm­ent.

But Soder told reporters: “What is important is that we do this with respect for each other. And I will say this: whoever is chosen in the end, we will both work very well together.”

Senior members of the CDU/CSU coalition were set to meet on Monday to discuss the situation and a decision on who they want as chancellor is likely to be made in the coming days.

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