Armin Laschet clinches nomination to run for German chancellor

Leader of Merkel’s CDU party to head election challenge after Bavarian rival ends bid

CDU leader Armin Laschet: Secured just two-thirds support from  his own party board. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

CDU leader Armin Laschet: Secured just two-thirds support from his own party board. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

 

Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Armin Laschet has joined the race to be the country’s next chancellor after a Bavarian rival ended a challenge that has divided their ruling centre-right camp.

After months of discrete campaigning, and two weeks of open insurrection, Bavarian leader Markus Söder set aside his own ambitions to back Mr Laschet as the joint candidate of the CDU and his own Christian Social Union (CSU).

“The dice have fallen, Armin Laschet will be the chancellor candidate of the [CDU/CSU] union,” said Mr Söder in a press statement. “We will support him without resentment and with our full energy.”

Markus Söder: “We will support him without resentment and with our full energy.” Photograph: Peter Kneffel/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Markus Söder: “We will support him without resentment and with our full energy.” Photograph: Peter Kneffel/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

His concession came hours after Mr Laschet secured the backing of his CDU board early on Tuesday morning, his last chance to salvage his political future.

After nearly seven hours of heated debate, Mr Laschet forced a secret ballot in which 31 members of the party board backed him, six abstained and nine voted for Mr Söder.

Having secured just two-thirds support of his own party board, Mr Laschet begins the work of winning over Söder supporters, while his supporters have begun talking up the result.

“We are a union of two parties . . . and it is decisive that at end of the day we have to have a joint candidate,” said Thomas Frei, deputy CDU/CSU parliamentary party leader, on Tuesday breakfast radio. “This signal is crystal clear so I expect that this question will be cleared up today amicably by both parties what was agreed.”

Seat fears

Even with the decision for Mr Laschet, many Bundestag MPs remain fearful his weak poll numbers endanger their seats in September’s election. Many publicly, others silently, agreed with the Bavarian leader that his stronger standing in polls and broader support base made him a better election leader.

Five months before the election, the first without chancellor Angela Merkel as leader in two decades, the leadership battle has exposed divisions in the CDU/CSU alliance.

Recent days saw a series of senior CDU figures back Mr Söder over their own leader, including federal economics minister Peter Altmaier, a Merkel confidante.

“Many will be disappointed,” warned Mr Altmaier,”if the party board decides exactly the opposite of what’s important to them.”

Two state premiers – of Saxony-Anhalt and Saarland – also spoke out in favour of the Bavarian politician; many others demanded that grassroots members and regional parties be given a chance to participate in the decision.

Saxony-Anhalt’s minister president Rainer Haseloff, facing re-election in a state poll in June, said: “It is not about personal characteristics or trust, this is about the question of pure power and who has the better chances.”

Dr Merkel has vowed to keep out of the race and did not speak during the six-hour video conference that ended after 1am on Tuesday.

Senior CDU figure Wolfgang Schäuble, himself a former party leader and finance minister, reportedly warned Mr Laschet that his days as CDU leader were numbered if he failed to secure the nomination.