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Germany’s CDU to elect Merz as new leader following election debacle

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Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) are set to elect Friedrich Merz to be their new leader at a party conference on Saturday, as the party recovers from its worst-ever election result.

At least 1,001 delegates are set to vote in an online ballot, with only the top brass meeting at party headquarters in Berlin due to the pandemic.

Merz is the sole candidate to succeed Armin Laschet, who led the party’s ill-fated 2021 election campaign.

Support for Merz was cemented in a December poll of CDU members, in which he won 62.1 per cent of the ballots.

Observers will, however, be watching to see how many delegates refuse to back Merz, a 66-year-old party veteran and corporate lawyer, who has often butted heads with the conservative party’s more moderate faction.

Merz will be the CDU’s third leader since 2018, when former chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she would step down from the position after 18 years.

Merz ran against both of Merkel’s successors as party leader, without success.

The CDU is overhauling its entire leadership after garnering just 24.1 per cent of the vote in September’s parliamentary elections.

Saturday’s online vote must be confirmed by a postal vote, the results of which are to be announced on January 31.

Amid success in the business world, Friedrich Merz seems to have never given up on his political ambitions.

Now squarely back at the centre of German political life, Merz is a polarising figure, often butting heads with more moderate figures within his own party.

His professional career has been touted by some as evidence of his competence on economic issues, but others view his contacts with wealthy corporations as problematic.

He gave up his BlackRock board position in 2020.

Merz represents the CDU’s right wing, having cemented his position there back in 2000 when he kicked up a storm with comments highlighting Germany’s national identity, rejecting multiculturalism and stating that German culture should be the country’s dominant cultural force.

Hailing from the Sauerland region of western Germany, he joined the CDU at the age of 17.

On Saturday, Merz is finally set to clinch the party leadership, even though Saturday’s event is not the final step, since the result of the online vote will need to be confirmed in a postal ballot before being made official.

In December, he became the leader-designate when he won 62.1 per cent of the vote in a poll of the party membership, after pledging that he was “no transition man.”

He has his eyes set on the chancellery, but will have a tough road ahead of him if he is to lift the bruised CDU out of the opposition come the next election.

Either way, his leadership will mark a new chapter in the CDU’s long history.

On Friday, Merkel’s office confirmed to dpa that she would not participate in the Saturday conference to cement her erstwhile sparring partner’s ascent to the top of the party.

(NAN)

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