Chancellor Angela Merkel’s preferred candidate Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has won the race on for the leadership of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
In a knife-edge runoff on Friday, the 56-year-old conservative politician won 517 votes from the CDU delegates, at a party conference in Hamburg. Her main rival Friedrich Merz, an outspoken critic of Merkel’s liberal refugee policy, got 482 votes.
Earlier on Friday, Kramp-Karrenbauer called on the CDU delegates to be more courageous and self-confident to address the challenges of 21st century, to strengthen the European Union and defend the “rules-based international order.”
Merz, for his part, criticized Merkel’s open door policy for refugees, and called for a “new start” for the CDU, with a new strategy on various political issues. He pledged to win back voters the CDU has lost to the far-right Alternative for Germany or the AfD.
Kramp-Karrenbauer made her case ahead of the vote by saying the CDU had to maintain its position as the "last unicorn in Europe," the bloc's last successful catch-all party. She also made a reference to her nickname, "mini Merkel," saying, "People consider me a 'mini,' a copy, a simple 'more of the same,' but I can tell you that I stand here as my own person, just as life has shaped me and of that I am proud."
Merkel, who led the Christian Democrats for 18 years, announced in October that she will not run for the chair again amid heavy losses of her party in regional elections.
But Merkel underlined that she wanted to remain chancellor until her term ends in 2021.