The three leading candidates to become the new chairman of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party have agreed that a decision must be made by mid-January, a party official said Saturday as top contenders rushed to end an increasingly bitter dispute.
The center-right Christian Democratic Union has been in leadership limbo since current chairman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who replaced Merkel in 2018, announced in February that she would not run for chancellor next year and would relinquish her party role.
The April special convention to select successors had to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was postponed until a regular party convention scheduled for December 4, which was in turn overturned by the party leadership on Monday as virus infections have risen sharply again and German states have imposed new restrictions.
The cancellation led to an open split between competitors for CDU leadership. Merkel, 66, has vowed not to seek a fifth term as chancellor, and the next party chairman will be in a position to run for election to replace him, although that is not automatic. The party currently has a strong lead in opinion polls.
The leading candidate to become leader of the Christian Democrats is Friedrich Merz, 64, a former conservative leader of the party’s parliamentary group who spent years away from frontline politics; Armin Laschet, 59, governor of the more liberal state of North Rhine-Westphalia; and Norbert Roettgen, 55, who chairs the parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
Laschet prefers to postpone the December convention. Merz, once Merkel’s rival who was polled by the party’s grassroots favorite, urged the vote to continue and accused “part of forming the party” trying to prevent her from becoming leader. He alleged that Laschet had signaled he needed “more time to improve his appearance.”
Open disagreement is an unusual spectacle for a traditionally disciplined party, and it worries many prominent members. In comments in the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel on Saturday, Kramp-Karrenbauer called on competitors not to have “discussions that undermine the CDU as a whole.”
On Saturday night, CDU general secretary Paul Ziemiak tweeted that the three candidates agreed to hold a party convention in mid-January to decide on the matter – held in person where possible, and if not, by online voting supported by written ballots. Details will be decided in mid-December.
Ziemiak welcomed what he called “a sign of strong unity”.
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