Merkel party leaders back Armin Laschet as chancellor candidate

Merkel party leaders back Armin Laschet as chancellor candidate
Laschet speaking at a CDU meeting.Photo: DPA
The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU secured the backing of the party's top brass on Monday, party sources told AFP, in a key boost for his campaign to succeed the veteran leader at elections in September.

As head of the CDU, Armin Laschet would normally be a shoo-in to head the party and the CSU, its smaller Bavarian sister party, to the polls on September 26th — when Merkel will retire after 16 years as chancellor.

But with public support for the conservatives tumbling over their recent  handling of the coronavirus pandemic, some have called for Laschet to step aside in favour of Markus Söder, the more popular CSU leader.

READ ALSO: German conservatives mull Merkel succession amid slumping poll ratings

However, after a key huddle of the party’s top brass on Monday, a party  source told AFP that “the CDU leadership is in favour of Armin Laschet running  as the (conservative) candidate in the 2021 election campaign”.

Key indicator

While the backing of the party heavyweights does not mean Laschet is home and dry in the race, it is seen as a key indicator of who the alliance will end up picking.

Long-time Merkel ally Laschet, 60, took over as CDU leader in January but has since suffered a series of setback including a damaging spat with Merkel over virus containment measures.

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As head of the country’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Laschet defended his region’s broad interpretation of national virus measures, calling for “more freedom and flexibility”.

He was also ridiculed on social media for saying he needed time to “think about” how to deal with Germany’s spiralling third wave over Easter, and accused of flip-flopping when he then appeared to change his mind with calls for a “bridge lockdown”.

Söder, meanwhile, has been praised for taking a hard line on virus measures in Bavaria and has sought to align himself with Merkel, arguing that  the chancellor should help decide who would be her successor.
‘Whole population’

“A CDU-CSU candidate without the support of Angela Merkel will not be successful,” he told Bild last weekend.

The Star Trek fan and fancy-dress loving Bavarian also insisted in an interview with Spiegel magazine that the candidate needed to be “accepted by  the whole population, not just the party”.

Söder has consistently beaten Laschet in recent popularity polls, with one survey by public broadcaster ARD showing that 54 percent of Germans thought he would be a good chancellor candidate, compared to just 19 percent for Laschet.

READ ALSO: Three-quarters of Germans think Laschet ‘not suitable choice for Chancellor’

The Bavarian premier had remained tight-lipped about his ambitions to be chancellor candidate, but openly declared his willingness to run for the first time on Sunday — on the condition that he had the backing of the more powerful CDU.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung, a key newspaper in Söder’s Bavaria region, suggested that with the CDU leadership’s crushing decision on Monday, the party was betting on the smaller CSU party stepping aside and allowing Laschet to take the reins.

“The CDU is determined that the big sister will not put her foot down, but that the little sister will come to her senses,” it said.

A final decision expected some time in the next two weeks, according to German media reports.

Trust in the CDU-CSU has been severely hit in recent months by a sluggish vaccination programme and a corruption scandal over mask procurement, leaving the conservatives at record lows of less than 30 percent.

With the once fringe Green Party now just a few points behind them, the CDU-CSU could face the real prospect of losing the chancellery for the first time since 2005.


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