Friday, June 9, 2023

Armin Laschet wins CDU leadership election

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Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has been elected leader of the Christian Democratic Union, placing him in pole position to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor of the most powerful country in Europe .

Mr Laschet beat Friedrich Merz, a corporate lawyer, by 521 votes to 466 in a poll held in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. Forced online by the nationwide shutdown, it was the first digital party leadership election in German history.

Her victory marks a triumph for the liberals and centrists of the CDU, who want her to continue the moderate and middle-of-the-road policies pursued by Merkel during her 16 years as Chancellor.

An easy-going Rhinelander, Mr Laschet wants to preserve CDU status as Germany’s last remnant People’s Party, a large church of die-hard conservatives, green-tinged townspeople, and liberals from Merkel-ite who ruled Germany for 50 of the past 70 years.

Mr Merz, a former leader of the CDU parliamentary group, argued that the party had drifted too far into the center of German politics under Merkel and wanted to make it a more identifiable conservative party capable of winning back right-wing voters who had defected. to the Populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) or has stopped voting altogether.

Saturday’s election will have profound implications for Germany and, by extension, European politics. Ms Merkel is bowing out after the Bundestag election in September, and Mr Laschet now has a good chance of being nominated as a CDU candidate to replace her.

However, a final decision will only be taken after consultations between the CDU and its Bavarian twin party, the CSU. Speculation is raging in Berlin that Markus Söder, Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU leader, might have an interest in running as a joint CDU / CSU candidate.

Germany’s allies hoping for a smooth transition into the post-Merkel era will be relieved that one of her closest allies has inherited her party. Over the years, Mr Laschet has consistently defended his policies, including his controversial decision to keep Germany’s borders open during the European refugee crisis in 2015 and thus allow more than a million migrants to enter. in Germany.

Mr Laschet gained national notoriety in 2017 by winning regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, an industrial region that had long been a stronghold of center-left social democrats. Although generally popular in his home state, his approval ratings plummeted in the early stages of the pandemic, when he was seen as hesitant and undecided.

His first job as a leader will be to ensure a good performance for the CDU in two regional elections in March, in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. The party currently votes well nationally, in large part thanks to Merkel’s skillful handling of the pandemic. But if his vote drops in national elections, he could be pressured to step aside and let Mr Söder run as the joint CDU / CSU candidate for chancellor.

Mr. Laschet’s victory is a blow to the conservatives of the CDU, who believe that 16 years in government, mainly in “great coalitions” with the Social Democrats, have undermined him of his energy and his intellectual ambition. .

Mr Merz had conducted most of the polls before the election, but these did not necessarily reflect the views of the 1,001 delegates who actually vote in the leadership election. The delegates are civil servants, MPs, MEPs, regional governors and mayors who tend to prefer continuity to any radical disruption.

A third candidate, Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, dropped out after the first ballot, after collecting 224 votes against 385 for Mr Merz and 380 for Mr Laschet.

Originally viewed as a rank underdog, Mr Röttgen saw a late surge in the polls thanks to a savvy online campaign that resonated with a younger generation of CDU voters and activists and a pledge to return the party “younger, more feminine and more digital”.

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