German CDU elects new leader, end of Merkel era begins

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File photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference in Berlin. Dec 2, 2020. Markus Schreiber / Pool via REUTERS

BERLIN, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) chooses a new leader on Saturday with the aim of uniting the party with a president they hope will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor when she resigns after the elections September federals.

The leadership of the largest economy in Europe is at stake. Merkel, the mainstream politician on the continent and a consistent winner in German elections since taking office in 2005, has said she will not run again.

The new president of the CDU will be elected by 1,001 delegates at a digital congress, who began voting shortly before 1000 GMT.

By tradition, that person is usually – though not always – the candidate for chancellor of the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The conservative bloc is on track to win the federal vote in September.

The centrist Armin Laschet, the conservative Friedrich Merz and the foreign policy expert Norbert Roettgen are the candidates for the presidency of the CDU.

Yet polls show CSU leader Markus Soeder is the voters’ preferred conservative. In addition, some CDU legislators want Health Minister Jens Spahn to run for chancellor, even though he has already supported Laschet.

Laschet, the first of the three candidates to speak on Saturday, said many voters prefer Merkel over the party.

“The reputation of the chancellor, both here and abroad, can be summed up in one word: trust,” he said. The next leader’s task would be to earn that same trust, both for himself and for the party, he added.

Germany is heading, according to polls, to another coalition government in September. The polls give Merkel’s conservative bloc around 36% of the vote; followed by the Greens, around 20%, and the Social Democrats, with 16%.

(Information by Caroline Copley and Thomas Escritt; written by Paul Carrel; edited by Mark Heinrich and John Stonestreet; translation by Jorge Martínez)

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