Merkel crisis: Chancellor's party in urgent talks to choose successor as support plummets

The two contenders vying to be the German ruling conservative coalition’s candidate for chancellor in September’s election are due to meet leading members of the parliamentary party on Sunday as pressure grows for a decision on who should run.

Armin Laschet, leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), lags Markus Soeder, head of its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), in opinion polls but enjoys the support of some powerful state premiers.

Traditionally the leaders of the two parties, which form a parliamentary bloc, decide who will run, but some lawmakers are demanding to have a say this time.

The outcome of Sunday’s talks, which is also expected to cover other issues, is unclear.

While it is possible that the participants will decide who will run, they may also agree on a process or timetable for choosing a candidate.

Laschet, 60, is a centrist and widely seen as a Merkel continuity candidate, but has clashed with her over coronavirus restrictions, and has made it clear that he wants the candidacy.

Soeder, 54, an astute political operator who has sided with Merkel during the pandemic, has not formally said he wants the role, saying his place is in Bavaria.

No CSU leader has ever been German chancellor.

Many conservatives are nervous about contesting the September 26 election without Merkel, who has led them to four victories.

She has ruled out standing for a fifth term and has not said which of the two candidates she would prefer.

The conservative bloc has slipped to about 27 percent in polls, partly due to an increasingly chaotic management of the pandemic.

READ MORE: Angela Merkel accused of ‘avoiding’ making tough decisions

It comes as more than 60,000 people have signed a petition calling for an end to “paid politics” in Germany, which campaigners say flourished during Merkel’s 16 years in office.

The Youth Council of the Generations Foundation has hit out at Mrs Merkel for allowing a system of political lobbying completely lacking in transparency to fester.

Rifka Lambrecht, 20, who started the petition, said the problem has got so bad that it has threatened to bleed into corruption and something must be done urgently to rein it in.

She said: “Lobbyism in Germany is systematic because there are no controls.

“Transparency is an absolute alien concept in our government at the moment.

“And lobbyism often goes so far that it is difficult to distinguish from corruption.”

The Youth Council of the Generations Foundation is focused on developing socio-political campaigns and aims to empower youngsters to initiate public debate. Its members are aged from 15 to 25.

Miss Lambrecht pointed to recent lobbying scandals which have blighted Mrs Merkel’s government during the Covid pandemic.

Two senior lawmakers from Mrs Merkel’s conservative alliance resigned following accusations they profited from the public health crisis and allegedly benefitted from state purchases of masks.

Speaking to Bavarian news outlet Bayerischer Rundfunk, Miss Lambrecht pointed the finger of blame at the Chancellor for allowing lobbying to escalate.

She warned the current lobbying system “has been growing for years, especially during the time under Merkel.”

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