Merkel steps down as CDU leader (Photo, video)

Merkel steps down as CDU leader (Photo, video)

Merkel steps down as CDU leader (Photo, video)

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Angela Merkel's favored candidate, won the vote to succeed her as head of Germany's ruling Christian Democratic party.

Merkel, 64, will pass the baton to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the 56-year-old general secretary of the CDU and strong supporter of the chancellor.

Kramp-Karrenbauer narrowly defeated Friedrich Merz, a one-time Merkel rival, at a congress of the Christian Democratic Union in Hamburg overnight.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is regularly referred to as AKK, is now largely expected to become German Chancellor when Angela Merkel retires in 2021. The vote came hours after the party feted Merkel with a lengthy standing ovation as she wrapped up 18 years at the helm.

Previously, German Chancellor and former CDU chief Angela Merkel announced that she would resign from her party post and would not run for a new term as chancellor following the poor performance of her party in elections to the regional parliaments. But on what lies ahead for the CDU, Kramp-Karrenbauer said: "I have no particular recipe". Party insiders say Kramp-Karrenbauer gets on well with Merkel.

During her speech, Merkel urged the party to join together and show Germans it can lead their country through turbulent times of growing polarization and crises like war, terror attacks and climate change. She shares many traits with her powerful mentor, including steadiness, pragmatism, and political acumen (she was state premier of Saarland for years), although she has been trying to subtly set herself apart, calling for stricter migration laws and a tougher response to Russian Federation over its recent aggression against Ukraine.

By contrast, Merz takes clear positions that appeal to rank-and-file party members hungry for a more clearly defined party after 13 years under Merkel as chancellor.

Merkel has been CDU leader since 2000 and chancellor since 2005.

"People, we have a lot to get done today", Merkel told them.

A third contender, Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, an outspoken critic of Merkel's 2015 decision to welcome more than one million asylum seekers to Germany, is seen as being in a distant third place.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, has differentiated herself from Merkel on social and foreign policy by voting in favour of quotas for women on corporate boards, opposed by Merkel, and by taking a tougher line on Russian Federation.

She also rejected claims that she was a "mini Merkel". She has moved her party relentlessly to the center, dropping military conscription, accelerating Germany's exit from nuclear energy and introducing benefits such as encouraging fathers to look after their young children.

The hardline Left party and the far-right Alternative for Germany lamented what they saw as the dawn of "Merkel 2.0".

For years, Merkel's popularity lifted the CDU and its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union. The most recent opinion polls put the CDU between 27% and 30%.

And she said the CDU must attract voters with its own ideas, not by competing to see "who attacks our political opponents the hardest".

"In times like these, we will defend our liberal views, our way of life, both at home and overseas", Merkel told deputies according to Reuters. CDU delegates at the congress in Hamburg also held up signs saying "Thanks boss".

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