Germany: Merkel’s party elects pragmatic Laschet as leader


BERLIN (AP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party on Saturday chose Armin Laschet, the pragmatic governor of Germany’s most populous state, as its new leader – sending a signal of continuity months before a election in which voters will decide who will become the new chancellor.

Laschet will have to build unity within the Christian Democratic Union, Germany’s strongest party, after defeating his more conservative rival Friedrich Merz. And he will have to dive directly into an electoral marathon that culminates with the national vote on September 26.

Saturday’s vote is not the last word on who will run as the center-right candidate for chancellor in Germany’s September 26 election, but Laschet will run himself or have a big say in who does. He did not address his plans at Saturday’s party convention.

Laschet, 59, was elected governor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017, a traditionally center-left stronghold.

He rules the region in a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats, the CDU’s traditional ally, but would likely be able to work smoothly with a more liberal partner as well. Current polls indicate that Green environmentalists are probably the key to power in elections.

Laschet on Saturday emphasized the value of continuity and moderation, and cited the assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump as an example of what polarization can lead.

“Trust is what keeps us going and what has been broken in America,” he told delegates ahead of the vote. “By polarizing, sowing discord and mistrust, and systematically lying, a president has destroyed stability and confidence.”

“We need to speak clearly but not polarize,” Laschet said. “We have to be able to integrate, to keep society together.”

He said the party needs “the continuity of success” and “we will only win if we stay strong in the midst of society”.

Laschet said that “there are a lot of people who, above all, find Angela Merkel good and only after that the CDU.” He added that “we need that confidence now as a party” and that “we have to work for that confidence.”

Laschet beat Merz, a former rival of Merkel who was making his second attempt in recent years to win the CDU leadership, by 521 votes to 466. A third candidate, prominent lawmaker Norbert Roettgen, was eliminated in the first round of ballot.

The strong support from Merz suggests that a strong contingent would want a sharper conservative profile after the Merkel years. Merkel has led Germany since 2005, but said more than two years ago that she would not seek a fifth term as chancellor.

Merkel, 66, enjoys lasting popularity with voters as she ruled Germany and Europe through a series of crises. But she has repeatedly abandoned orthodox conservative policies, such as speeding up Germany’s exit from nuclear power and ending military conscription.

His decision in 2015 to allow large numbers of migrants sparked strong tensions in the center-right and strengthened the far right. Alternative for the feast of Germany.

Saturday’s vote ends the limbo of nearly a year in Germany’s strongest party since outgoing leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who narrowly beat Merz in 2018 to succeed Merkel as head of the CDU but failed to impose its authority, announced his resignation. A vote on his successor has been delayed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Laschet called for unity after Saturday’s vote and said Merz remained “an important figure for us”.

“All the issues we will face after the pandemic require a broad consensus within our party,” he said. “And we’ll need that consensus for all …

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