Sunday, 16 December, 2018

New leader chosen to replace Germany's Angela Merkel

End of an era: Merkel passes torch to new party leader Merkel’s party chooses successor to longtime German leader
Melinda Barton | 07 December, 2018, 20:57

Accepting a lengthy standing ovation from delegates, many tearful and holding "Thanks, boss" placards aloft, a visibly moved Merkel said the party had won 4 national elections under her by holding fast to its principles.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has topped a first round of voting in the contest to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of Germany's Christian Democrat Union.

She stressed that the CDU stood for human dignity, and praised the late US President George Bush Senior and late German Chancellor Helmut Kohl for reuniting Germany in 1990.

A third candidate, 38-year-old Health Minister Jens Spahn, is seen as the outsider with little chance of victory.

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Outlining the multiple challenges facing Germany, from rapidly changing technology to climate change and a global shift away from multilateralism to defending national interests, she said: "In times like these, we will defend our liberal views, our way of life, both at home and overseas". Whoever wins will be favorite to run for chancellor in the next election, though that isn't automatic.

During the campaign, she took a more cautious stance on the future of Europe than Merz, who said Germany should "contribute more" to the European Union as it benefits from a euro common currency that is "too weak for our economy".

Both have prominent backers, though many CDU grandees - including the chancellor - have held off publicly endorsing a candidate.

AKK beat corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz, 63, who had quit politics in 2009 after losing a power struggle against Merkel and long nursed a grudge against the more centrist chancellor.

She began her political career in 1989 after being inspired by the Peaceful Revolution, which lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Merkel told a party congress in Hamburg that "our CDU today is different from the year 2000, and that is a good thing".

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.

Merkel said in October she would step down as party chief but remain chancellor, an effort to manage her exit after a series of setbacks since her divisive decision in 2015 to keep German borders open to refugees fleeing war in the Middle East.

"We can't afford another year like 2018 when we fought so much", he told public broadcaster ZDF.

Merkel appealed to the party to show unity, noting that arguments in recent years over migration have showed 'where endless arguments lead'.

"I am grateful for the time that is behind me, and I am glad for being able to continue working as chancellor", she said. "I have always wanted to do my government and party jobs with dignity, and one day to leave them with dignity".

The party has long languished in Merkel's shadow and could well decide to jump ship before 2021 to seek to avert further vote debacles - a move that would nearly certainly trigger new elections.