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Merkel’s CDU set to meet ahead of election-year leadership vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are set to launch a party conference on Friday ahead of a key vote on Saturday, which could represent a first step towards selecting her successor.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are set to launch a party conference on Friday ahead of a key vote on Saturday, which could represent a first step towards selecting her successor.

The race for the leadership of the Christian Democrats (CDU) appears wide open. There are three candidates on the ballot: Armin Laschet, who is premier of Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine Westphalia, corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz and foreign policy expert Norbert Roettgen.

The vote comes at the start of a crucial year in German politics, with national elections set for September. Merkel plans to retire from politics at the end of her current fourth term.

Traditionally, the CDU leader would spearhead the election campaign as chancellor candidate for the heavyweight party and its Bavarian-based allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

But this year, other possible contenders to lead the CDU/CSU into the election have emerged, notably CSU leader Markus Soeder, who is also the Bavarian premier and one of Germany’s most popular politicians.

A closely watched public opinion poll released by the ZDF broadcaster on Friday showed that it was still far from clear who should head the ballot for the conservative bloc in September.

Soeder was the most popular pick for Germany’s next chancellor, with 54 per cent of people agreeing that we has fit for the job.

Health Minister Jens Spahn of the CDU also polled better than the three men actually in the running for his party’s leadership, with 32 per cent agreeing that he would make a good Merkel successor.

Merz and Roettgen each came in at 29 per cent, while Laschet was only slightly behind on 28 per cent, ZDF reported.

A decision on the joint CDU/CSU chancellor candidate is expected in March.

The two-day CDU convention has already been delayed twice due to the coronavirus.

The conference of 1,001 party delegates will be held online for the first time and a digital vote will decide on the new leader.

This is uncharted territory in German politics. The winner will be officially confirmed on January 22 only after a postal vote makes the result legally binding.

Merz, Laschet and Roettgen have all vowed to accept the result of the online vote, meaning the losers won’t campaign to win postal votes beyond Saturday, which would technically be allowed.

The new leader will take over from Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the anointed successor in Merkel’s retirement plan, who however failed to stamp her authority on the party and announced that she would step aside in February last year.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel and Soeder are scheduled to speak at the event on Friday evening.

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