Germany looks beyond Merkel as party elects successor

BERLIN (AFP) – A knife-edge vote tomorrow will determine Angela Merkel’s successor as head of her party after 18 years at the helm, with the German chancellor’s own political fate and legacy on the line.

Merkel, the European Union’s most powerful leader, stunned observers in October with the announcement following a state election setback that she would not stand again as chairwoman of her centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU).

After years of turmoil within the party and the electorate over her disputed decision to keep the border open to more than one million asylum seekers, Merkel has said she will leave politics when her term ends in 2021.

Whether she can hold on to power until then will depend in large part on who the CDU elects to replace her at a party conference in Hamburg, with a Merkel loyalist and a longtime nemesis running neck-and-neck.

“Sooner or later, whoever becomes the leader of Germany’s biggest party will probably become chancellor,” political scientist Eckhard Jesse of the University of Chemnitz told AFP.

Widely seen as Merkel’s anointed crown princess is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56.

Known as AKK for short, she is the CDU’s centrist general secretary and former premier of tiny Saarland state.

While polls indicate that she is also the favoured choice among German voters and the CDU’s rank-and-file, there are indications she has failed to electrify the 1,001 delegates who will cast ballots in the race against her charismatic main rival, Friedrich Merz.