Merkel-Succession Rivals Square Off in Messy Nomination Duel

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The two contenders to lead Germany’s conservatives into national elections in September are facing off in Berlin in the next step in a showdown that risks undermining the group’s efforts to install Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor.

After initially balking, Armin Laschet, the leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, was goaded into participating in a Tuesday meeting of the bloc’s lawmakers to defend his claim to the nomination. His rival Markus Soeder, of the smaller Bavarian CSU sister party, provoked the response on Monday by announcing that he would attend.

While the CDU/CSU’s 245 Bundestag lawmakers have no formal role in picking a chancellor candidate, a preference for one of them could be decisive.

A recommendation won’t be made at the closed-door meeting and that the process will still take several days, caucus leader Ralph Brinkhaus said in Berlin. He added that he wants the candidates to reach an agreement but didn’t express a personal preference.

“It doesn’t make any sense that a decision is made in dispute or in opposition to one another,” said Brinkhaus. “We want the party chiefs to agree so that we can then jointly prepare for the campaign as soon as possible.”

Forcing a direct confrontation represents a victory for Soeder’s upstart candidacy. With lawmakers’ seats at risk from an abrupt slump in the polls and his CSU allies firmly at his back, the Bavarian state premier is betting he’ll be able to win support from within the ranks of Laschet’s CDU.

Merkel-Succession Rivals Square Off in Messy Nomination Duel

The two conservative parties traditionally field a joint candidate, with the decision generally made behind the scenes and almost always in favor of the larger party’s chief. There’s no process in place for a public contest, and Soeder wants a larger group than just him and Laschet to have a say.

The tense contest has spurred sniping from rivals. Rolf Muetzenich, the caucus leader of the Social Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, said the ongoing power struggle has made the conservative bloc incapable of governing.

Soeder, 54, has pointed to his approval rating -- he was ranked as the most popular politician in Germany in one recent poll -- saying the CDU/CSU can’t ignore “the country’s mood.”

“You can only win elections with broad support and active party members who are willing to fight,” Soeder said on Monday after receiving backing from his party. He announced his candidacy publicly on Sunday after months of maneuvering behind the scenes.

Laschet, 60, had sought to gain the upper hand with the CDU’s leadership unanimously backing his candidacy. The premier of North Rhine-Westphalia then called for a quick decision, saying the problems facing Germany are too significant for infighting.

The standoff could be difficult to resolve with both candidates insisting that they’re best-placed to win the campaign against the surging Greens, which have pared the CDU/CSU’s lead to four points in the polls.

The environmental party will announce their own chancellor candidate -- likely between co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck -- on Monday, putting pressure on the conservatives to resolve the issue.

“We want a decision very quickly,” Alexander Dobrindt, the head of the CSU’s parliamentary group, said alongside Brinkhaus. “We want to enter the campaign together, we want to use the strengths of the CDU and the CSU, and therefore it’s a process of team building.”

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