Merkel’s Party Opts for Online Convention to Elect New Leader

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Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union will elect a new party chairman and potential successor to the German leader at a two-day virtual congress starting Jan. 15.

The convention with 1,001 delegates had to be postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic, delaying the process of finding a replacement for Merkel’s hand-picked successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. AKK, as she is widely known, who also serves as defense minister, announced in February that she would step aside following a series of gaffes and internal revolts.

“We will be the first party in Germany to hold such a digital convention,” Paul Ziemiak, the CDU’s secretary general, said on Monday in Berlin after the party leadership had voted in favor of the procedure.

The new CDU leader will be determined by Jan. 16, but the decisions will have to be confirmed in a postal vote after the convention for legal reasons, he said. Since the only name on the ballot will be the winner of the digital vote, officials expect the mail-in process -- to be announced on Jan. 22 -- to be a formality.

Whoever wins will likely run to succeed Merkel as chancellor in September’s general election. Armin Laschet, the moderate leader of Germany’s most-populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Friedrich Merz, a long-time Merkel adversary from the right-wing of the party, are the frontrunners.

Norbert Roettgen, a foreign-policy expert and former Environment Minister, is also on the ballot. All three candidates have promised that they will respect the result of the digital vote.

Merkel -- still the country’s most popular politician -- has said she will step down after more than a decade and a half running Europe’s biggest economy. Her popularity has endured despite the government imposing strict measures to try to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Recent surveys suggest that the CDU and their CSU sister party in Bavaria would win around 35% of the national vote if an election were held now. The Greens would be the second-biggest party with around 20%, bolstering expectations that they will join the conservatives as junior partners in a coalition government.

While the CDU typically fields the chancellor candidate for Germany’s conservative bloc, none of the potential contenders are very popular. To win the election, Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder of the CSU -- widely perceived to have performed well as Merkel’s right-hand man in the pandemic fight -- could be asked to step in.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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