Merkel Succession Rivals Holed Up in Secret to Pick Nominee


The two candidates battling to lead Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc into September’s election are holding secret face-to-face talks at an unknown location in Germany in an effort to settle the contest by Saturday, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.

Party officials have largely written off the chances of reaching a decision between Armin Laschet, who leads Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and Markus Soeder, who runs the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, before their self-imposed Friday deadline.

But they have been asked to remain on standby over the weekend. Both camps insist that their candidate has no plans to back down. The people asked not to be identified speaking about internal deliberations.

Despite the increasingly acrimonious fight to follow Merkel at the top of the conservative ticket, both sides are keen to maintain the impression that the nomination has been decided in a more or less orderly fashion, and that means reaching a decision by Saturday.

On Sunday, they would be clashing with a national ceremony to commemorate Germany’s coronavirus victims and on Monday the Greens will announce their candidate at a long-planned event. If it’s undecided by Tuesday, it’s likely to go to a vote of the two parties’ federal lawmakers, who are scheduled to meet at the Bundestag.

There’s no official procedure in place for settling the contest because the two party leaders usually decide between them who has the best chance of winning. And they almost always opt for the CDU leader.

In 1979, the candidacy was also disputed between CSU leader Franz Josef Strauss -- Soeder’s political inspiration -- and former Lower Saxony state premier Ernst Albrecht. Strauss won the nomination in a caucus vote but lost the federal election a year later to Helmut Schmidt of the Social Democrats.

The longer the stalemate lasts, the more Soeder’s chances rise.

As the leader of the smaller party, he’s long been considered the outsider with no obvious path to the nomination and little public support from the senior CDU figures whose help he needs to push Laschet aside.

That began to change this week after both Laschet and Soeder made their pitches to the group’s 245 lawmakers. A clear majority spoke out in favor of Soeder, according to several participants who asked not to be named discussing private talks, though Laschet insisted afterward in comments to reporters that there had been no majority against him.

On Thursday, Saxony-Anhalt state premier Reiner Haseloff became the first member of the CDU leadership to switch sides, albeit indirectly, calling for the issue to be decided by a caucus vote. If the contest does come down to a vote, that’s likely to tip the result in Soeder’s favor.

Soeder enjoys far more support among the German public and many lawmakers are anxious about losing their seats if they head into the election campaign with Laschet as their candidate.

According to an infratest poll published by public broadcaster ARD on Thursday, 72% of CDU/CSU supporters favor Soeder as chancellor candidate, while only 17% voiced their support for Laschet.

Since the heated encounter at last Tuesday’s caucus meeting, both leaders have more or less disappeared from public view in order to push for a solution. On Wednesday, Soeder canceled a planned appearance on a prime time talk show which briefly prompted speculation that he might drop out.

But since then, both have made it clear to party insiders that they plan to dig in. Attempts at mediation by party elders have also so far failed, officials said.

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