German conservatives pick Merkel ally as party leader
HAMBURG, Germany – German conservatives opted for continuity rather than change Friday, electing Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, an ally of Angela Merkel, to succeed Merkel as their party leader and giving her the inside track on becoming the next chancellor of Germany.
The vote by delegates of the Christian Democratic Union is the first concrete step into the post-Merkel era after her 18 years as leader of Europe’s biggest conservative party and 13 years as chancellor. For many conservatives, it also served as an endorsement of Merkel’s legacy.
By choosing Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, a woman whose modest leadership style is reminiscent of the chancellor’s, the party signaled a desire to keep to the centrist, socially conscious course set by Merkel. As party leader, she is likely to become the Christian Democrats’ candidate for chancellor during the next general election, now scheduled for 2021.
Friday’s vote increased Merkel’s chances of maintaining the current coalition government with the center-left Social Democrats, and completing what she says will be her final term in office, though it could also leave the Christian Democrats deeply split.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s chief rival for party leadership, Friedrich Merz, an outspoken millionaire and former rival of Merkel, had been seen as the candidate who would restore the party’s conservative values and would lure voters back from the farright party Alternative for Germany.
No one won a majority in the first round of voting, with Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, also in the running. Kramp-Karrenbauer defeated Merz in a runoff, 517-482.
“This shows that there is a great continuity in German politics,” said Armin Laschet, the premier of NorthRhine Westphalia, Germany’s biggest state. “There is no fundamental wish to change things.”
And, he said, it sends a “strong signal” to women to have another woman succeed Merkel.