German conservative rivals miss deadline in race to succeed Merkel

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The Bundestag or lower house of parliament in Berlin. Germany's conservatives missed a self-declared Sunday deadline to resolve an internal feud over who should be their candidate to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel in upcoming elections. Hopefuls Armin Laschet, the leader of the CDU, and Markus Soeder, the more popular head of the smaller CSU, met late Sunday in the Bundestag building in Berlin, but ended more than three hours of talks with no outcome, according to dpa sources. Photo: Christoph Soeder/dpa
The Bundestag or lower house of parliament in Berlin. Germany's conservatives missed a self-declared Sunday deadline to resolve an internal feud over who should be their candidate to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel in upcoming elections. Hopefuls Armin Laschet, the leader of the CDU, and Markus Soeder, the more popular head of the smaller CSU, met late Sunday in the Bundestag building in Berlin, but ended more than three hours of talks with no outcome, according to dpa sources. Photo: Christoph Soeder/dpa

Germany’s conservatives missed a self-declared Sunday deadline to resolve an internal feud over who should be their candidate to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel in upcoming elections.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavaria-only allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have been engaged in a messy struggle to decide who will be their chancellor candidate.

Influential members of the bloc have put pressure on the two candidates to end the bickering, fearing it is harming their efforts to win a fifth consecutive term in power in September’s election.

The two hopefuls are Armin Laschet, the leader of the CDU, and Markus Soeder, the more popular head of the smaller CSU.

Both are also premiers of powerful German states: Laschet in North Rhine Westphalia and Soeder in Bavaria.

The two men and their teams have been holding talks on and off over the past week with the aim of ending the dispute by Sunday. But despite both sides characterizing the discussions as constructive, neither has budged so far.

Soeder and Laschet met late Sunday in the Bundestag building in Berlin, but ended more than three hours of talks with no outcome, according to dpa sources.

Both camps were mum on the state of play and the plans going forward.

If a decision is not reached on Monday, the question could be thrown to the parliamentary faction on Tuesday.

The CDU and the CSU traditionally field a joint candidate for chancellor. Normally, Merkel loyalist Laschet would be a lock for the candidacy as leader of the heavyweight CDU.

But party support has dipped in the public opinion polls as Merkel’s government struggles to manage the coronavirus pandemic, leaving an opening for Soeder to make it a two-man race.

Soeder, the brasher of the two rivals, is currently one of Germany’s most popular politicians, having used the pandemic to hone his profile far beyond his home state of Bavaria.

Laschet has the backing of most of the CDU party’s top brass, although there have been notable defections. The CDU premiers of Saxony-Anhalt and Saarland signalled support for Soeder, as have the two parties’ joint youth organization.

The CSU, meanwhile, is nearly unanimous in its endorsement of Soeder. The struggle in the CDU/CSU alliance illustrates how the looming departure of Merkel after a 16-year-tenure is reverberating in Germany.

Even while publicly trading barbs, both Soeder and Laschet have stressed the need for unity among the sister parties, which have dominated Germany’s post-War political landscape, as they face a formidable challenge in September from a resurgent Green Party.

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