Rul­ing party in Ger­many elects leader

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Erik Kirschbaum Kirschbaum is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

BER­LIN — Ger­many’s rul­ing party Fri­day elected a pro­tege of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel as its new leader, push­ing back strong chal­lenges from ri­vals who ap­par­ently were con­sid­er­ing oust­ing Merkel be­fore her term ends in 2021.

The con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union party, which Merkel led for 18 years, elected cen­trist An­negret Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer as its new chair, plac­ing her on track to be­come the coun­try’s next chan­cel­lor.

Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, 56, de­feated a strong chal­lenge from two arch­con­ser­va­tive ri­vals who wanted to steer the party to the right and pos­si­bly oust Merkel well be­fore the end of her term. Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer re­ceived 517 votes from the 999 party del­e­gates gath­ered in Ham­burg, while mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man and erst­while Merkel neme­sis Friedrich Merz, 63, got 482 votes.

An­other can­di­date, Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, was knocked out of the run­ning in the first of two rounds of vot­ing.

The com­pe­ti­tion to lead the party that has been the dom­i­nant force in postWorld War II Ger­man gov­ern­ments marked a sharp break in tra­di­tion for the con­ser­va­tives, who for decades had picked their lead­ers in closed-door meet­ings and then pre­sented a sin­gle can­di­date to run un­con­tested at party con­gresses.

Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer, who is bet­ter known in Ger­many by her ini­tials AKK, is a for­mer gover­nor of the small west­ern state of Saar­land. She is of­ten called the “mini-Merkel” for her sim­i­lar cen­trist outlook on many is­sues. “This com­pe­ti­tion was good for our party and it has given us a boost,” Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer said. “Thank you for your con­fi­dence in me.”

Merkel, 64, has been chan­cel­lor of Europe’s largest econ­omy since 2005. Her de­ci­sion in Oc­to­ber not to seek an­other two-year term as chair of the Chris­tian Democrats came af­ter a string of state elec­tion de­feats for her party. She had long ruled out giv­ing up control of the party lead­er­ship be­cause it could re­sult in an ero­sion of power, doom­ing her chan­cel­lor­ship.

Merkel’s pop­u­lar­ity in her party has fallen in the last three years, af­ter her de­ci­sion to al­low more than 1.5 mil­lion refugees from Syria and other trou­bled coun­tries into Ger­many. She de­liv­ered an emo­tional speech at the start of the party congress and re­ceived a 10-minute stand­ing ova­tion.

Merkel urged con­ser­va­tives to con­tinue fight­ing for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism in an era of “dwin­dling in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion” that is be­ing re­placed by “the prin­ci­ples of deal-mak­ing.”

Be­cause the Chris­tian Democrats have ruled the coun­try for 49 of the last 69 years, win­ning lead­er­ship of the con­ser­va­tive party is tan­ta­mount to be­ing anointed as its can­di­date for the next elec­tion.

“Her vic­tory means short-term po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in Ger­many,” Julius van der Laar, an in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, said of Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer. “It’s more likely now that Merkel’s grand-coali­tion gov­ern­ment will stay in power un­til 2021. Merz would have al­most cer­tainly tried to push Merkel aside in 2019 in or­der to po­si­tion him­self as the agent of change.”

Thomas Jaeger, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Cologne Univer­sity, said Merz’s de­feat was a set­back to the pow­er­ful right wing of the con­ser­va­tive party that has for years been hop­ing to re­move Merkel — mainly over anger that she pushed the party to the po­lit­i­cal cen­ter.

“In the end, the CDU del­e­gates voted for con­ti­nu­ity, pure and sim­ple,” Jaeger said. “It re­mains to be seen if Kramp-Kar­ren­bauer can re­unite the party now. It’s go­ing to be the big chal­lenge.”

Thomas Lohnes Getty Im­ages

AN­NEGRET Kram­pKar­ren­bauer is a cen­trist pro­tege of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel.

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