REVIEW - Candidates Gear Up For Leadership Race In Germany's Most Powerful Party, Chancellorship

REVIEW - Candidates Gear Up for Leadership Race in Germany's Most Powerful Party, Chancellorship

BRUSSELS (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 15th February, 2020) As German Chancellor Angela Merkel's hand-picked successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced stepping down from the Christian Democratic Union party leadership this week and thus giving up prospective chancellorship, other candidates were prompt to line up and tickle one's imagination on what Germany's helm might look like in the years to come.

Following a political earthquake in the central German state of Thuringia, it got pretty clear that the process of choosing a successor to the world's most powerful woman - as per the Time magazine - will not follow the well-prepared scenario.

A CAREFULLY PREPARED PLAN GOES DOWN THE DRAIN

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, commonly referred to as AKK, did not do a convincing job at the helm of the center-right CDU - after all, it is a difficult job to steer a large party through dire straits, with several factions and influence groups developing on the party's left and right edges.

The major problem in the core of Merkel's demise was her decision in 2015 to open the country's doors wide open for initially "refugees from war-torn Syria," but essentially illegal immigrants from all over the middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe trying to reach Germany through Turkey, then Greece and then the Balkans.

The so-called Balkan route, for example, has brought some 1.5 million migrants to Germany, a great majority of them male and Muslim - a sure way to trigger a strong opposition to Merkel's single-handedly declared policy of open doors. The new far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) just thrived on her re-pledges to it twice again in 2016 and 2017.

Within Merkel's own party CDU even, many were very much against this migration policy but were silenced by the almighty chancellor and her satellite, AKK. But things have soured. The election results across the German lands last year saw the CDU loosing nearly half of its usual support, while the AfD, the Greens and even the Free Democratic Party (FDP) winning big.

Merkel announced her departure to beexpected after the 2021 general election, but many used to think it would occur even earlier. Now that her carefully groomed successor stepped away from the role, the plan will apparently get a new trajectory.

A series of serious and less serious contenders are indicating their interest amid a growing pressure to oust Merkel before the next general election.

THURINGIA'S CDU REJECTS ORDERS FROM MERKEL, AKK FROM BERLIN

What happened during a local vote for state premiership in Thuringia past week exasperated tensions within the CDU. The CDU unexpectedly decided to vote for FDP candidate Thomas Kemmerich on par with the AfD despite an explicit order from AKK not to do so.

Their vote violated the post-war agreement not to side with the far-right, known as the cordon sanitaire pact, and practically brought about a red-green alliance in one state that sent shock-waves across entire Germany. "Thuringia shock for the CDU: Merkel's fatal mistake," was Die Welt's headline which at the time aptly reflected how Merkel was blamed for not having imposed sufficient discipline on her party in terms of links with the far right.

Weakened Merkel had to fire several prominent party members and impose a moratorium on any contact with the AfD, among them Christian Hirte, former state secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the federal government commissioner for the new states, for posting a congratulatory post to Kemmerich on Twitter.

"The Chancellor today proposed to the Federal President the dismissal of Secretary of State Christian Hirte," Merkel's spokesperson Steffen Seibert said in a terse statement.

Kemmerich announced quitting the position mere three days after the vote, which was clearly a move forced by the chancellor. "After the scandalous events surrounding the forced resignation of the elected Thuringian Prime Minister Thomas Kemmerich (FDP), the resignation of Chancellor Angela Merkel is unavoidable," Alice Weidel, AfD group leader in the Bundestag, said in a press release.

"Angela Merkel is responsible for many breaches of law that undermine the foundation of our parliamentary democracy and our constitutional state. The list ranges from the breaching the euro 'rescue' through the 'energy turnaround' to opening the borders for uncontrolled migration in violation of the law on asylum in violation of the Basic Law," the party said.

But the real earthquake occurred when Merkel's successor-designate AKK stepped down from the party leadership and announced she would not run for the German chancellorship on February 10.

NOW WHAT? CANDIDATES LIGNING UP FOR INTERNAL CDU RACE

There was no need to search for candidates actually - they have already profiled themselves over the past few months. The choice is essentially simple: a continuity, following the Merkel line, or a shift to the Right in a bid to get back lost voters who defected to the AfD.

The process has many twists to it, however.

The CDU might form a bloc with the Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) which is much more on the right of the political spectrum, especially since Merkel has veered to the center-left to please her partner in the ruling coalition, the Social Democratic Party (also in total disarray) in Berlin.

Bavaria's CSU, in turn, demands a say in choosing the conservative bloc's next chancellor candidate. Since 2015, there has been an apparent antagonism between Merkel and the CSU, as Bavaria was the frontline region to get an influx of migrants. Bavarian Premier at the time Horst Seehofer is now the Federal Minister of the Interior. The acrimony is everywhere: within the federal government and in relations with federal states.

Incumbent CSU leader Markus Soeder used to be the first candidate to succeed Merkel, but he says he has abandoned the idea. He is scheduled to meet with now-caretaker CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer the coming weekend at the Munich Security Conference and discuss possible candidates.

Who are the top candidates? Well, there are two main ones: one representing the continuity and the other one the rightward move.

The CDU Economic Council's vice-president Friedrich Merz, 64, is a candidate on the right flank. An ardent critic of Merkel, this CDU heavyweight launched a bid to replace her in 2018. Too early, apparently, back then, but possibly right on time now. He wants a a nonbinding membership vote, hoping for a majority of votes from about 1,000 eligible party voters.

Merz has described himself as Atlanticist and pro-Europe, socially conservative and economically liberal. He is seen as a representative of the conservative and pro-business wings of the CDU. He is also a declared Catholic and is ill at ease with Merkel's "open doors" policy on migration. He served as a lawmaker in the European parliament from 1989 to 1994 and then at Bundestag from 1994 to 2009, but most notably he used to be the CDU/CSU parliamentary group leader from 2000 to 2002 up until Merkel pushed him aside.

He has been very contemptuous lately with the AfD, to indicate that - despite his positions on the right - he does not favor an alliance with the hard-right, speaking of a "rabble" or "trash mob" to describe the supporters of the AfD. Merz apparently wants to shift the CDU to the right to woo back voters lost to the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant AfD.

Speaking to Sputnik, AfD spokesman Alexander Gauland said that "the devaluation of the AfD and its voters as 'rabble' by Friedrich Merz is completely unacceptable. Especially in politically troubled times, in which attacks on party offices and threats to politicians are piling up, it is irresponsible and negligent to take on such tone in relation to political competition."

"Committed citizens are not 'rabble'. I advise Friedrich Merz to return to an objective tone as quickly as possible," he added.

The other main candidate is Health Minister Jens Spahn, 39. Much younger, he is a protégé of Chancellor Merkel. In an interview with Deutsche Press Agentur information agency, he said he was "prepared to take on responsibility." One can infer from what he said next that the leadership succession will be discussed in the coming days.

"We all need to make sure to give it a few days so that we can discuss things in quiet," he was quoted as saying.

Spahn represents North-Rhine Westphalia in the Bundestag and has traditionally toed the line with Angela Merkel.

In addition to Spahn and Merz, another potential candidate is Armin Laschet. Also unconditionally on Merkel's side, he is a CDU moderate who leads Germany's largest state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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