Merkel’s party chooses successor to longtime German leader

Infighting hits Merkel's party before vote on successor

Germany's Christian Democratic Union is meeting to elect a new party leader - to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The favourites are CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a Merkel ally who is widely considered the chancellor's preferred successor and is closest to her centrist stance; and Friedrich Merz, a former leader of the party's parliamentary group who stands for a more conservative approach and is seeking a comeback after a decade away from front-line politics. (AAP) German Chancellor Angela Merkel embraces her newly-elected replacement as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

She now inherits the task of improving the CDU's political fortunes and trying to win back voters from rivals to the right and left, while working with Merkel as chancellor until Germany's next election.

The party has suffered a significant drop in support even at a national level according to polls, going from the 40 percent gathered during Mrs Merkel's most successful days to a mere 30 percent.

"Angela Merkel is one of our era's most globally respected leaders, a statesperson of formidable intellect, commitment, empathy, and principle", said Margaret Wang, president of the Harvard Alumni Association.

Merkel announced in October she would give up the reins in her party, though she plans to remain chancellor until her current term ends in 2021.

A third contender, Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, an outspoken critic of Merkel's 2015 decision to welcome more than one million asylum seekers to Germany, is seen as being in a distant third place.

'We kept a cool head, ' she said.

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This week, Merz - who has insisted in the face of widespread scepticism that he could work well with Merkel - won the backing of powerful former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, now the parliamentary speaker. She was greeted by a several-minute standing ovation, with some delegates holding up 'Thank you, boss!' placards.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, has differentiated herself from Merkel on social and foreign policy by voting in favour of quotas for women on corporate boards and by taking a tougher line on Russian Federation.

She was previously a popular governor of western Saarland state.

Armin Laschet, premier of Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, said the CDU needed to begin projecting an image of unity ahead of European elections next May.

Mr Merz will benefit from the fact that 296 of the delegates at the congress - nearly a third - will be from his home state, the western region of North Rhine-Westphalia.

A senior CDU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said many delegates were undecided before the congress and could be swayed by how the candidates present themselves on Friday.

"It could come down to the speeches on the day", he said.

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