Merkel rival wins leadership of German conservatives

Berlin (AFP) – Friedrich Merz, a die-hard opponent of Angela Merkel within Germany's conservative CDU, was elected party chief on Friday, marking a new direction after its disastrous defeat in September's election.


The veteran right-winger, 66, won 62.1 percent of the vote in a ballot of around 250,000 CDU members, decisively beating more moderate rivals Norbert Roettgen on 25.8 percent and Helge Braun on 12.1 percent.

He will replace Merkel ally Armin Laschet, who led the CDU-CSU bloc to its worst-ever result in the September general election with just 24.1 percent of the vote as Merkel prepared to retire after 16 years in power.

"I will of course stand for the party in its entirety and deal with all the issues that our party feels are important," Merz said as the result of the vote was announced in Berlin.

Adjusting to being in the opposition "will not happen overnight, especially when we have been in government for so long and so successfully, but we will of course adjust to this role," he said.

A millionaire and corporate lawyer by trade, Merz was pushed out of politics altogether by a power struggle with Merkel in the 2000s before returning when she resigned as head of the CDU in 2018.

He has since lost out twice in his quest to become party leader, beaten in both cases by candidates preferring a more centrist course and continuity with the Merkel era.

But it was third time lucky for Merz in a vote that brought in the CDU rank-and-file for the first time in its history, with previous party leaders picked by a much smaller number of senior members.

Almost two-thirds of CDU members voted in the postal ballot, with Merz now set to be officially elected at a congress on January 21 and 22 in Hanover.