Laschet Clings On in Battle to Succeed Merkel as Chancellor

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Armin Laschet, head of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, pushed back in an increasingly tense battle with Markus Soeder over who will lead Germany’s conservative bloc into September’s election.

Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Monday, Laschet said he will invite Soeder to a meeting of the CDU’s leadership at 6 p.m., an open challenge to the head of the smaller Bavarian CSU party who has been waging an upstart campaign to become chancellor candidate for over a week.

At the gathering, he said he would make a proposal on how to “very swiftly” resolve the standoff and that he would be prepared to meet with the CSU leadership if needed. It’s unclear if Soeder would take part, as he meets with his party in Munich.

“The goal is to win this election and that will only be possible with a great deal of unity and a single candidate,” Laschet told reporters outside the CDU’s national headquarters.

He referred to the CDU leadership unanimously backing his candidacy last week and said he hoped that a final decision could be made “very quickly this week,” indicating that the contest will drag on longer.

Bavaria Premier Soeder has been trying to persuade CDU members that his ability to connect with voters makes him a better bet to hold on to the chancellery than Laschet, the party leader they elected barely three months ago.

If the bloc does back Soeder, it will mark a surprising departure for the alliance that has dominated German politics since World War II and could presage more dramatic shifts in the way the country is run. He’s seeking to get the bloc’s lawmakers in the Bundestag to vote on Tuesday, but Laschet’s camp may try to thwart the ballot, which isn’t binding.

Laschet Clings On in Battle to Succeed Merkel as Chancellor

The process looks even messier compared with the Greens, which announced Annalena Baerbock as their lead candidate in a smooth, well-orchestrated process. The 40-year-old political scientist and foreign-policy expert made reference both to the “mudslinging” that has plagued the conservative chancellor nomination and to allegations that some lawmakers from Merkel’s bloc took advantage of the pandemic to enrich themselves via lucrative contracts for medical equipment.

“Trust in democracy, in politics as a whole is threatened,” she told reporters. “That is a great cause of concern to me.”

Soeder, 54, and Laschet, 60, talked for about three hours until around 2 a.m. Monday morning, according to a CDU party official. The meeting took place at a Bundestag office and other CDU and CSU leaders were present, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential matters. Soeder is on his way back to Bavaria, news agency DPA reported.

Earlier Sunday, Laschet’s authority was further undermined when the CDU’s youth wing voted in favor of Soeder’s candidacy. Three CDU state premiers -- from Saxony-Anhalt, Saarland and Saxony -- have broken ranks with the rest of the party leadership and put their weight behind the Bavarian.

Despite those blows, Laschet refused to throw in the towel, dragging the contest out for at least another a day. Party leaders are concerned that the drawn-out, public battle for the nomination is damaging their election prospects.

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