Markus Soeder has conceded the race to lead Germany’s conservatives into September elections, handing victory to rival Armin Laschet as the centre-right bloc’s candidate for chancellor.
Laschet’s win puts him in prime position to succeed Angela Merkel, who is stepping down in autumn after over 15 years in power.
“The die is cast. Armin Laschet will be the chancellor candidate for the Union,” Soeder said on Tuesday, referring to the conservative bloc, which comprises Laschet’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Soeder’s Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU).
Speaking alongside Soeder, CSU Secretary General Markus Blume said Soeder had been the “candidate of the hearts” and that he had presented a “damned good” candidacy.
They announced the decision from Munich after leading CDU officials threw their support behind Laschet in an overnight vote. Soeder had said he would respect that decision, and on Tuesday he said he stood by his word.
Once Laschet’s candidacy is formally confirmed, he will go into the elections as the centre-right bloc’s joint candidate for chancellor.
As the biggest grouping in parliament and the leader in opinion polls, this could give Laschet the first chance of forming the next government – with himself in the chancellor’s chair.
Senior CDU figures had wanted a quick end to the short but bruising contest between Laschet and Soeder, two political heavyweights who are not only the leaders of their respective parties, but also state premiers.
But there are fears particularly among CDU lawmakers that Laschet – who is less popular among the electorate as a whole – won’t deliver as a good election result as Soeder could have done.
The CDU/CSU bloc is under pressure to reverse a slide in the polls ahead of the September vote, with surveys showing less than 30 per cent of voters would choose them at election time.
The Greens, who announced their chancellor candidate on Monday, are surging in second place at around 20 per cent.
The CDU/CSU’s current coalition allies are languishing in third with around 14-16 per cent.