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Leader of Merkel’s party moves forward in bid to be chancellor candidate

The Union bloc aims to decide quickly on its candidate after months of shadow-boxing between Armin Laschet and Markus Soeder.

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Armin Laschet, CDU federal chairman and minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, arrives at the CDU presidium meeting in front of party headquarters in Berlin, Germany (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

Armin Laschet, CDU federal chairman and minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, arrives at the CDU presidium meeting in front of party headquarters in Berlin, Germany (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

Armin Laschet, CDU federal chairman and minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, arrives at the CDU presidium meeting in front of party headquarters in Berlin, Germany (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

The leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party has backed party chairman Armin Laschet’s bid to become the centre-right candidate for Germany’s next leader, one of his deputies said.

The development gives him an advantage after he and a rival both declared their ambitions.

The Union bloc aims to decide quickly on its candidate after months of shadow-boxing between Mr Laschet, the head of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and Markus Soeder, who leads its smaller Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union.

Mr Laschet and Mr Soeder – the governors of Germany’s two most populous states, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria respectively – both officially declared on Sunday that they are prepared to run, but insisted that they will quickly find a harmonious solution.

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Armin Laschet, left, and Markus Soeder (Tobias Schwarz/Pool Photo via AP)

Armin Laschet, left, and Markus Soeder (Tobias Schwarz/Pool Photo via AP)

AP/PA Images

Armin Laschet, left, and Markus Soeder (Tobias Schwarz/Pool Photo via AP)

They did not specify how they will do so.

The leaderships of the CDU and the CSU are holding separate meetings on Monday.

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Volker Bouffier, the governor of Hesse state and a deputy party leader, said the CDU’s top leadership backed Mr Laschet’s candidacy, though it did not make a formal decision.

“We expressed clear support for our leader and made clear that we consider him exceptionally well-suited, and asked him to discuss the way forward together with Markus Soeder,” Mr Bouffier said.

He added that the party wants a decision within a week.

The CDU’s local branch in Berlin, which is relatively weak, backed Mr Soeder.

It was unclear how many others in the party might come out for the Bavarian leader.

Mr Laschet’s support in the CDU is a decisive factor because his is by far the bigger of the two parties.

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Christian Democratic Union chairman Armin Laschet (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

Christian Democratic Union chairman Armin Laschet (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

AP/PA Images

Christian Democratic Union chairman Armin Laschet (Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

It runs in 15 of Germany’s 16 states, while the CSU runs only in Bavaria.

Mr Soeder said on Sunday he is ready to run “if the CDU – which is the bigger sister, that’s very clear – supports this broadly”.

He added that “it’s also clear that if the big sister says that’s not its proposal and it has a different proposal … we would accept that”.

Mr Soeder, 54, said the candidate should be the one with the best chances in the September 26 election, in which Mrs Merkel is not seeking a fifth term after 16 years in power.

That underlines a weakness for Mr Laschet – current polls show much better ratings for Mr Soeder, who has cultivated an image as a decisive backer of tough action in the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Laschet, 60, was elected as CDU leader in January and has not enjoyed a honeymoon, most recently garnering criticism for appearing to dither over how to manage a resurgence in virus cases.

Last month, the CDU suffered bad losses in two state elections.

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Markus Soeder and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Michael Sohn/Pool/AP)

Markus Soeder and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Michael Sohn/Pool/AP)

AP/PA Images

Markus Soeder and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Michael Sohn/Pool/AP)

National polls have shown the Union giving up gains it made on the strength of Mrs Merkel’s management of the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

It has been hurt among other things by a slow start to vaccinations and allegations that several legislators from both the CDU and CSU profited from business deals last year as Germany scrambled to secure masks.

Some of those legislators have left their parties.

The Union still leads national polls ahead of the environmentalist Greens and the centre-left Social Democrats.

The Greens plan to announce on April 19 which of the party’s two co-leaders will make its first bid for the chancellery.

The Social Democrats nominated current finance minister Olaf Scholz months ago.

The CSU has twice provided the centre-right candidate for chancellor in the past – Franz Josef Strauss in 1980 and Edmund Stoiber in 2002.

Both lost to centre-left incumbents.


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