Merkel’s CDU Party Rejects Accusations of ‘Anti-Merz’ Campaign
(Bloomberg) -- Senior officials in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union have dismissed accusations by Friedrich Merz that a Dec. 4 convention to elect a new leader was canceled to stop him from winning.
The CDU’s leadership decided unanimously Monday that the planned congress in Stuttgart with 1,000 delegates won’t take place because of rising coronavirus infections, rejecting Merz’s proposal to hold a virtual meeting with a postal vote. The new party leader would be in pole position to run as Merkel’s potential successor in next year’s elections.
Merz, a long-time rival of the chancellor who is popular among the party’s rank and file but relatively unpopular among the broader electorate, said the decision was part of a “Stop Merz” campaign. His main rival in the race, North Rhine-Westphalia Premier Armin Laschet, was behind the move, he said.
Laschet “needs more time to improve his performance,” Merz said in an interview with Die Welt newspaper. He cast himself as the “outlaw” taking on the “party establishment” and said the decision had placed the CDU in “great danger.”
Asked about Merz’s accusations, Paul Ziemiak, the party’s general secretary, said Tuesday that the reason for the postponement was the rising number of virus infections in Germany in recent weeks. Party officials will meet Dec. 14 to reassess the prospects for holding the gathering, and if the picture isn’t clearer by then, will reconvene on Jan. 15.
“The virus situation is much more difficult and we should focus more on that, rather than the situation in the CDU,” Ziemiak said on DLF radio. “Parties are important -- you can’t compare them to a singing club -- but the situation will only get worse in coming weeks and we should direct our energies toward dealing with that.”
The delay could push the leadership vote to after state elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in mid-March, giving the new leader little time to prepare for a national campaign. Merkel plans to step down after 16 years running Europe’s largest economy and a general election is due in September.
Ralph Brinkhaus, the head of Merkel’s CDU/CSU caucus in the Bundestag, said he understood Merz’s frustration but urged all involved to keep calm.
“It’s not nice for any of the candidates,” he said Tuesday on ARD TV. “They all geared their campaigns toward a December vote, but health must take priority and that’s what the CDU leadership decided.”
Merz, 64, narrowly lost a contest for the top job in 2018 to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has decided to step aside after a series of missteps. He said Tuesday in a tweet he remains open to any compromise proposals.
Norbert Roettgen, chairman of the foreign policy committee in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, is also running.
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