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Merkel's party to elect leader in April

By Chen Yingqun | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-26 09:59

Germany's CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer holds a news conference after a party board meeting in Berlin, Germany, Feb 24, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, said on Monday that it will elect a new party leader and candidate for chancellor in late April, one day after the party suffered its worst result in the state election in Hamburg.

Current party chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the CDU would hold a congress on April 25 to choose a new leader, who would also be the CDU candidate for chancellor. The winner of the party leadership would have to work alongside Merkel before she ends her term in 2021.

The decision on the timetable of the succession was urgently made after the CDU suffered a bitter loss in the state election in Hamburg on Sunday. The CDU won only 11.5 percent of votes, coming third after the surging Greens and the center-left Social Democratic Party, or SPD.

He Yun, an assistant professor at Hunan University's School of Public Administration, said that this voting result is a response to the internal crisis of leadership in the CDU, as Kramp-Karrenbauer's recent announcement of quitting disrupted Merkel's succession plan and plunged the fractured party into further disarray.

"People now feel uncertain about the CDU after the departure of Merkel," she said. "Merkel is a symbol of stability and now that stability is leaving the CDU. The election result is an indication of how the voters are responding to that."

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who had been widely seen as Merkel's successor, made a surprise decision earlier this month that she was giving up her role as party chair as well as her ambition to run for the chancellorship.

She has failed to build authority within the party, especially after CDU legislators in an eastern state voted with the far-right Alternative for Germany to oust a left-wing incumbent, breaking a long-standing rule of not working with the right-wing populist party.

Four contenders for the party chair have come forward so far, including the former parliamentary group leader Friedrich Merz, who narrowly lost to Kramp-Karrenbauer in December 2018 in the race for the CDU leadership; Armin Laschet, premier of Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, Health Minister Jens Spahn, and former environment minister Norbert Roettgen.

He said that the current four candidates are all "white, male and from North-Rhine Westphalia", and it seems to her they don't have the sort of diverse profile that is needed to unite the party.

"But then there could be surprises. After all, Merkel was considered a 'little girl' by many in the early years. But look at how she has surprised everybody," she said.

Tian Dewen, deputy director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the CDU's leadership crisis must be resolved soon, as it could worsen the party's support rate that has already been dropping recently, as well as its coalition government with the SPD.

"The CDU made painstaking efforts to form the current coalition government with the SPD," he said. "If the two parties fail to make good performances in next year's federal election, then forming a coalition will be more difficult."

However, he doubts that the new CDU party leader would have the same influence among German politicians as Merkel did.

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