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Merkel's party picks Laschet as next leader

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-18 09:40
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The new elected Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party leader Armin Laschet gestures as he gives a speech following his election during the second day of the party's 33rd congress held online amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Berlin, Germany on Jan 16, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party on Saturday elected Armin Laschet, a governor of the country's most populous state, as its new leader, making him the most likely candidate to succeed Merkel after the September national election.

Laschet defeated Friedrich Merz, a lawyer regarded as a traditional conservative, with 521 votes against 466 at an online convention of the center-right CDU.

Norbert Roettgen, a third candidate and head of the German parliament Bundestag's foreign affairs committee, was eliminated in the first round of voting.

Laschet vowed continuity of Merkel's policies in his speech on Saturday.

A centrist governor of populous North Rhine-Westphalia state since 2017, Laschet pledged to do everything so the CDU would do well in the upcoming regional elections and keep the party's hold on the post of chancellor.

Laschet's victory was also seen as a decision by CDU delegates for continuity of Merkel's policies. Merkel has been chancellor since 2005 but announced in late 2018 she would not seek a fifth term in office.

Laschet, who will turn 60 on Feb 18, has said he wants to keep the party coalition and rejected calls to recruit more conservative voters.

While the victory put Laschet in a strong position as a candidate to succeed Merkel, some believe that prospect is not totally guaranteed.

German Defense Minister Annergret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was favored by Merkel a year ago as successor, later dropped her position as CDU leader and also her candidacy for the 2021 CDU election.

Various polls suggest Bavarian governor Markus Soder, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the CDU's sister party, might also become a strong candidate.

The two parties formed a union in elections, and plan to make a decision on their joint candidate in March.

Laschet was born in a suburb of Aachen near the Belgian and Dutch borders and had worked as a journalist and in the publishing industry from the mid 1980s to late 1990s.

"I think it was a victory based more on his political style than on the political substance. And as close to a Merkel continuation as possible," Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister and co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said in a tweet after the vote.

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