German CDU elects Kramp-Karrenbauer as new party leader

Jens Spahn Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer and Friedrich Merz

German Chancellor and chairwoman of the German Christian Democratic Union Angela Merkel, is applauded after her farewell speech during a party convention in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.

The choice of leader also has more immediate implications for the future survival of Germany's biggest party, which has been struggling with an identity crisis, as well as Merkel's chances of serving out the rest of her term until 2021.

One of the most recent examples of Merz wanting a change of course for the CDU has been his outspoken criticism of the United Nations migration pact, which was revealed to have been largely drafted by the Merkel government starting in 2016.

Party delegates, meanwhile, gave Merkel a standing ovation and waved signs that read "thank you, boss", as she gave her last speech as CDU leader after 18 years at the party's helm.

Kramp-Karrenbauer stepped down as the leader of Saarland several months ago, when Merkel personally requested that she become the CDU's general secretary, considered the second most powerful position in the party. More generous family leave, an exit from nuclear power and an end to military conscription are among her signature policies.

Kramp-Karrenbauer has been the CDU's general secretary, in charge of day-to-day political strategy, since February. He is seeking a comeback after a decade away from frontline politics.

A close ally of Merkel, Kramp-Karrenbauer (known as "AKK" in Germany) is a down-to-earth, experienced politician, who was formerly the state premier of Saarland.

Above all, Merz had underscored his promise to move for a clean break from Merkel's 13 years in power.

While she generally supported Merkel's open-door policy towards migrants, she has admitted that grave mistakes have been made, and has pushed for a ban on refugees with criminal convictions being allowed back into Germany. If their candidate, BlackRock Inc.'s Friedrich Merz, beats Merkel acolyte Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer the chancellor's plans for a final three years in office may be called into question.

The party will vote today on who replaces Merkel - putting them on track to be in the race to become the next Chancellor of the country in 2021.

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However, another favourite is a onetime rival of the Chancellor, former parliamentary leader Friedrich Merz.

"Now it is time to open a new chapter", Merkel said.

Regardless of which course the CDU charts, it is ironically the SPD that could decide Merkel's fate. "Opposing camps are forming".

The contest is wide open as 1,001 party delegates convene for the two-day party conference.

AKK is believed to have Merkel's strong backing but much will depend on how deep and widespread the longing is for a stronger conservative profile.

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.

Whoever wins will face towering challenges for the party, which is now drawing around 28 percent at the polls, far below the around 40 percent enjoyed during Merkel's heyday.

While Merkel remains popular, AKK inherits a diminished party which is now polling at roughly 30 percent, far below the about 40 percent enjoyed during Merkel's heyday.

"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.

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