Laschet Set to Win Battle to Lead Merkel’s Bloc in Election

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Armin Laschet is closing in on the chancellor candidacy for Angela Merkel’s conservatives in September’s election, following a testy and potentially damaging contest with an insurgent challenger.

Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder is set to accept Laschet’s nomination, the Bild newspaper reported, citing unidentified party insiders. The head of the smaller CSU sister party will speak at 12 p.m.

Laschet Set to Win Battle to Lead Merkel’s Bloc in Election

Laschet, the head of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, gained the upper hand in the acrimonious battle after winning a clear majority in a vote among his party’s leadership early Tuesday morning.

He won the backing of 31 out of 46 members of his party’s top committee -- or 67% -- in a ballot early Tuesday morning to determine who should lead the center-right bloc into the national election. Only nine supported Soeder, who had said on Monday he would accept a clear vote. There were six abstentions.

There’s no formal process to settle a contested candidacy, which means the decision ultimately comes down to one backing down. But party officials see the race now as decided.

“Ranks are closing behind Armin Laschet,” Roderich Kiesewetter, a CDU lawmaker, said in an interview with ZDF television on Tuesday. “Markus Soeder yesterday made a clear statement, and it’s important that the two come together” so the bloc can turn its attention to the campaign.

The CDU vote represents a remarkable swing in the race for the conservative chancellor candidacy. Laschet was under intense pressure in recent days as some in his own party threw their support behind Soeder, but he refused to capitulate despite low popularity.

Polls show the Bavarian would have had a significant advantage among voters leading the CDU/CSU ticket, which will put pressure on Laschet to lift his and the party’s popularity after the messy power struggle.

Laschet Set to Win Battle to Lead Merkel’s Bloc in Election

Polls suggest that Germany’s conservatives could be headed for their worst-ever election result, losing support to the Greens, who nominated Annalena Baerbock as their candidate on Monday. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has been campaigning for the Social Democrats, but the party is a distant third.

After more than a week of public bickering, Laschet has been weakened by the split in his party, with many openly voicing their support for Soeder. Three CDU state premiers -- from Saxony-Anhalt, Saarland and Saxony -- broke ranks with the rest of the party leadership and put their weight behind the Bavarian. During the session on Monday evening in Berlin, some CDU officials -- including Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, a close Merkel ally -- spoke out in favor of Soeder, damaging Laschet’s authority.

Laschet, 60, will have little time to recover, but still has Germany’s most powerful political machine behind him.

The son of a coal mining foreman, Laschet graduated in law, once edited a Catholic newspaper and was a legislator in the Bundestag as well as the European Parliament before being elected leader of Germany’s most populous state in 2017.

He would be likely to continue Merkel’s centrist policies as well as her low-key style of leadership, if he can claim the nomination and defend his slim advantage going into September’s national vote. Yet he would inherit a raft of new challenges, ranging from overcoming the coronavirus pandemic to managing a transition to green technology and tackling the threats posed by China and Russia.

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