Fight over Merkel succession rocks party congress


German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic party (CDU) opened its two-day party congress in Leipzig on Friday, setting the stage for a fierce fight over her succession.

Although there will be no formal vote at the party congress for a CDU chancellorship candidate, the meeting is widely regarded as a litmus test for German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is no longer a front-runner for the top job in the chancellery after Merkel.

The opinion polls indicate Friedrich Merz is in front in the race for leadership as Merkel is not seeking re-election when her fourth term ends in 2021.

Addressing the party congress in front of about 1,000 delegates, Kramp-Karrenbauer indirectly criticized her rival Merz, saying one should not “speak badly” of the CDU-led government.

“This is not a successful campaign strategy,” she added amid thundering applause.

Merz had called the performance of the grand coalition government “abysmal” after the latest election defeat in the East German state Thuringia, holding Merkel responsible for it.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, on the other hand, said of Merkel’s 14-year reign: “It has been 14 good years for Germany, and we can all be proud of each other”.

Less than a year after replacing Merkel as head of the CDU, Kramp-Karrenbauer is facing an uphill battle against Merkel’s old rival Merz.

There has been media speculations that there may be an inner-CDU coup at the party congress to present Merz as the chancellor candidate.

In the wake of CDU’s recent state election defeats, a recent opinion poll found that just 19% of Germans thought Kramp-Karrenbauer would be a good choice for chancellor, compared to 42% for Merz.

As the Merkel party is on a decline in the polls, the CDU senior official has seized the opportunity to intensify his attacks against the chancellor by accusing her of a “lack of leadership”.

The corporate lawyer who narrowly lost a bid to become party boss to Merkel’s chosen heir, Kramp-Karrenbauer said the party’s dramatic drop in the surveys can “no longer be ignored”.

Merz has benefitted from a series of high-profile political flops by Kramp-Karrenbauer that have left even loyal Merkel supporters wondering if the CDU chairwoman is up for the chancellery job.

For her part, Kramp-Karrenbauer has also urged stronger visible backing of her by Merkel as her inner-party critics have stepped up their attacks against her.

Meanwhile, the CDU’s youth organization has already crushed a taboo by calling for a membership vote on who the party’s chancellor candidate should be in the next general election, in a serious blow to Merkel’s succession plan.
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