who’s likely to replace Merkel as leader
Published : 05 Dec 2018, 23:27
Germany’s largest and dominant political party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is holding a crucial vote to elect a new leader this coming weekend after Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would not run for the post and effectively started to wind down her political career.
There are two main contenders for the party leadership but this vote, taking place at the party’s Annual Congress in Hamburg on December 7-8, has larger significance in that the winner could become Germany’s next chancellor.
Merkel said in October that she would not be running for re-election of chairwoman of the ruling conservative CDU back in October. She also confirmed that this, her fourth term, would be her last and she would not be seeking any political post after 2021.
Her announcement opened a leadership race for both the CDU and the ultimate prize (and responsibility) — leading Europe’s largest economy and most influential political entity.
Who are the candidates?
There are actually twelve candidates for the party leadership but some candidates are more prominent, and popular, than others.
In essence, there are three main candidates for the role — Merkel’s protegee Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (known colloquially as AKK), her conservative rival Friedrich Merz who used to be party whip (an enforcer of the party line during legislative votes), and Health Minister Jens Spahn.
The race is tighter between Kramp-Karrenbauer and Merz and these are seen as the frontrunners according to informal polls in which, generally, only a portion of the 1,001 delegates that are eligible to vote have voiced their voting intentions.
In a litmus test of delegates on December 1 by newspaper Bild Am Sonntag, only 269 said who they would vote for, the rest being undecided or not wanting to say. Of those happy to state their voting intentions, 144 were in favor of Merz, 96 for Kramp-Karrenbauer and 29 votes were for Spahn.
Most undecided delegates are vacillating between Merz and Kramp-Karrenbauer; the former is seen to be more popular with party members, however Kramp-Karrenbauer is seen as more popular with the public. Merz’s candidacy got an unexpected boost Tuesday when Merkel’s former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble publicly backed him.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (L), Jens Spahn (C) and Friedrich Merz (R) of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) attend at a CDU Saxony state congress on December 1, 2018 in Leipzig, Germany. The three are candidates to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of the CDU and are currently campaigning across Germany ahead of the CDU party congress on December 7-8.
The vote boils down to whether the party votes for continuity or radical change. Kramp-Karrenbauer is the CDU’s general secretary and a former minister-president of the state of Saarland, she is seen as a pragmatist of the Merkel variety. Under Merz or Spahn, the party is expected to move more toward the political right wing.
In debates leading up to the vote Friday, Merz has said the party needed to take “clear positions” and be ready “to lead controversial debates” in its politics, subtly criticizing Merkel’s more compromising approach, and her policy on thorny issues like immigration. Showing her “Merkellian” influence, Kramp-Karrenbauer has said there is a need for “constructive debate” in politics.
“Only one thing is for sure,” ING’s Chief Economist Carsten Brzeski noted on Wednesday, “the outcome of the Friday vote is highly unpredictable.”
“Party congresses can develop own characters and momentum. Also, it looks as if no candidate will manage to gain an absolute majority in a first round. This could make Jens Spahn, or better his supporters, the kingmaker(s).”
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