Centrist Armin Laschet was elected chairman of Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) on Saturday, succeeding Angela Merkel and putting him on course to run as the conservative party’s candidate for chancellor in federal elections in September.
Laschet, the premier of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia – Germany’s most populous – won a runoff vote against Friedrich Merz, securing 521 votes against 466 for his arch-conservative rival, according to a ballot of 1,001 party delegates.
At the helm of the CDU he replaces Europe’s predominant politician and a consistent winner with German voters since taking office in 2005, who has said she will not run for chancellor again.
“I want to do everything so that we can stick together through this year … and then make sure that the next chancellor in the federal elections will be from the [CDU/CSU] union,” Laschet said in his victory speech, following his party’s first ever digital convention.
Laschet, 59, presents himself as the Merkel continuity candidate and she said last year he had “the tools” to run for chancellor, the closest she has come to endorsing anyone.
Traditionally, the CDU leader spearheads the election campaign as chancellor candidate for the heavyweight party and its Bavarian-based allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
However, polls show Markus Soeder, the CSU leader, is the conservative most favoured by voters. Some CDU lawmakers want dynamic Health Minister Jens Spahn to run for chancellor, though he has backed Laschet for the party leadership.
The vote comes at the start of a crucial year in German politics, with national elections set for September. Merkel plans to retire at the end of her current fourth term.