Christian Democrats will choose new party chair in knife-edge election on Friday

Germany’s CDU set to elect successor to Merkel

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN

Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) are set to vote on Friday to choose Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor as party leader in a knife-edge election.

Recent surveys showed around 48 percent of the CDU voters backed Merkel loyalist Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer for the leadership, while 35 percent supported Friedrich Merz, an outspoken critic of Merkel’s refugee policy.

It was not clear how the electorate’s choice would be reflected in the decision of 1,001 delegates, who will gather in Hamburg to elect the new party chair.

Parliament speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble, one of Germany’s most powerful politicians, announced his support for Merz, in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Wednesday.

Several other key figures of the CDU, including EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, also backed Merz for the CDU leadership.

The 62-year-old candidate, branded by critics as “Trump light,” had challenged Merkel in 2002, but lost the power struggle, and later withdrew from politics in 2009.

Merkel’s right-hand man, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Thursday that he would support Kramp-Karrenbauer, as she would be the best candidate to lead the CDU.

56-year-old Kramp-Karrenbauer was the premier of the southwestern German state of Saarland from 2011 ahd 2018, and in February this year she was promoted to CDU secretary-general.

Merkel, who led the Christian Democrats for 18 years, announced in October that she will not run for the chair again amid heavy losses of her party in regional elections.

But Merkel underlined that she wanted to remain chancellor until her term ends in 2021.