German CDU mulls virtual congress to elect new leader

Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz and Norbert Roettgen are vying to lead Germany’s most popular party

Photo: AFP (L-R) Norbert Röttgen, Armin Laschet and Friedrich Merz before the Saturday debate

Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats are considering holding a virtual party congress in early December to elect a new leader and potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Handelsblatt reported on Sunday citing an unnamed party leader.

"Germany is experiencing an accelerating second wave of coronavirus infections and having an in-person gathering for the party’s 1,000 delegates as planned on 4 December would be irresponsible," the CDU presidium member told the newspaper.

“There is no way we can justify meeting for a party congress when the rest of the country has to stay at home,” the conservative politician added.

Merkel called in her weekly video podcast on Saturday on the public to stay at home and avoid travel where possible to minimise the spread of Covid-19, as the daily number of infections hit a daily record of 7,830 that day. 

Furthermore, the German parliament this month passed legislation allowing virtual party conferences to pass resolutions and elect leaders, either by postal vote or by locally-held secret ballot.

The 66-year-old chancellor, who has already stepped down as party leader, will not run for a record fifth consecutive term at a general election due in September 2021, meaning the CDU will be seeking re-election with a new figurehead. An attempt to stage-manage the succession fell apart earlier this year when Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who won a leadership vote two years ago only to struggle in the role, said she would step down.

Three candidates - Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz and Norbert Roettgen - are now vying to lead Germany’s most popular party. With campaigning restricted by coronavirus, the challengers had a rare opportunity to debate each other at a televised event organised by the party’s youth wing on Saturday evening.

Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, pitched his experience as a continuity candidate; finance expert Merz promised education and job opportunities to younger voters; and Roettgen touted his foreign policy experience.

Yet, there was little to differentiate the platforms of the trio, who aired strikingly similar views on the need to accelerate digital transformation and tie economic growth to environmental sustainability.

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