Germany’s CDU opens up leadership vote to all members in bid to start ‘afresh’

BERLIN — Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) announced Tuesday they will break with tradition and for the first time allow all party members to have a say in choosing a new leader after suffering defeat in September’s national election.

“It’s the members’ turn now,” CDU General-Secretary Paul Ziemiak said at a press conference announcing the decision, adding that “by mid-November, every CDU member will receive a letter and information about the voting procedure.”

The CDU, together with its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), finished second to the center-left Social Democrats in the election with 24.1 percent of the vote. The pairing lost more than a quarter of its support — or around 6.5 million voters — compared to the last ballot in 2017 when current Chancellor Angela Merkel was at the helm. 

Current party leader Armin Laschet signaled he would step down from the role after the disastrous results. The CDU has struggled to find someone to fill the shoes of Merkel — who remains extremely popular — who would please various factions of the party, after she left the role of party boss in 2018.

In previous leadership contests, the CDU leader has been chosen by 1,001 delegates — a select group of party members elected for two-year terms in their state, county or district associations. Now the entire party membership of roughly 400,000 will be able to vote between December 4 and 16, after candidates are nominated between November 6 and 17 and have a chance to present their platforms. The results will be announced on December 17 and if no individual wins a majority, it will go to a runoff ballot with a winner announced on January 14.

The final choice must still be confirmed by the group of delegates at a party conference set to take place one week later, on January 21 and 22 in Hanover.

While no one has yet officially thrown their hat into the ring, German media has reported that the usual suspects are likely interested, including Merkel’s former rival and party veteran Friedrich Merz. Outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn has also been mentioned, who like Merz leans more to the right within the party but who at 41 is almost a generation younger than Merz, 65.

Norbert Röttgen, a former environment minister and the CDU’s expert on foreign policy issues, is also expected to run (again) for party leader, while Ralph Brinkhaus, leader of the CDU’s group in parliament, and Carsten Linnemann, leader of the party’s pro-business wing, are also seen as in the mix for the top job.

Speaking alongside Ziemiak at Tuesday’s press conference, Laschet described the new process as a “compromise” between the desire to open up the decision to more people, and the need to unify quickly behind a new leader.

Laschet said this way, the party will be able to start “afresh” in the new year as the CDU faces regional elections in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein as well as his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

“We can then go into the state elections … in May with confidence,” Laschet said.

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