Germany's Christian Democratic Union delivered a badly needed victory to Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday when members elected 56-year-old moderate lawmaker Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the outgoing Chancellor's preferred successor, to succeed her as party leader.
After her party suffered yet another lackluster result in regional elections in its stronghold of Hesse - where its share of the vote fell by more than 11 points (its junior partner in her governing grand coalition, the Social Democrats, also slumped) - Merkel announced last month that she would not seek another term as chancellor after her current term ends in 2021. She also resigned as party leader, creating an opportunity for her party to anoint an heir who will be the presumptive favorite to win the chancellorship after Merkel retires from politics. As one journalist pointed out on Twitter, by choosing Kramp-Karrenbauer with a slight majority of 51.7%, the German conservatives have decided on continuity. The former chief minister of Saarland won 517 of the 999 votes cast, narrowly winning over 63-year-old executive Friedrich Merz, who represented a chance for the party to return to its conservative roots after 18 years of center-right rule.
Picking Merkel's favored candidate Kramp-Karrenbauer as Leader w/ 51.7%, German Conservatives choose continuity.— Holger Zschaepitz (@Schuldensuehner) December 7, 2018
CDU party elders and lawmakers voted by secret ballot after each of the three main candidates first given the chance to make their pitch. In addition to Kramp-Karrenbauer and Merz, Health Minister Jens Spahn also ran, but finished a distant third.
Friday's vote was preceded by an extended goodbye to Merkel, as party members waved signs that read "Thanks, boss" and honored her with a standing ovation lasting more than nine minutes following Merkel's final speech as CDU leader. Merkel didn't publicly endorse a candidate, but her preference for Kramp-Karrenbauer was widely known.
Offering un-subtle hints about her preference for Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel praised the party's gains in Saarland, the district represented by Kramp-Karrenbauer, while declaring that the CDU couldn't go back to its old (conservative) ways, a dig at Merz. While Karrenbauer has strong chance at the chancellorship, if support for the CDU continues to recede at the rate that it has been over the last year - where the far-right Alternative for Germany has made strong gains.