Angela Merkel Successor Was Ready To Step Aside, Then A Standing Ovation

The turmoil in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling party was laid bare Friday as her anointed successor came out swinging against internal rivals seeking to oust her as the party bleeds voters.

In a combative speech at a party conference in Leipzig, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer indicated to members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union that she was ready to step aside as leader if she did not have their backing.

“If you are of the opinion that the path which I want to go down, together with you, isn’t the right one, then let’s speak about it today,” she said. “Let’s end this today. Here and now and today.”

The seven-minute standing ovation that followed, along with a conciliatory speech from her main rival, suggested she had managed to foil immediate attempts to oust her. But her position remains far from secure.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, 57, also known by her initials AKK, has endured a turbulent 12 months since taking the helm of the Christian Democrats (CDU) at last year’s conference. In recent local and European elections, some voters have turned instead to the Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party. Nationally, the CDU, which governs in a coalition with two other parties, is polling at around 25 percent.

As it slumps, the party has been consumed by infighting. Friedrich Merz, 63, who narrowly lost the party leadership to Kramp-Karrenbauer last year, last month described the government’s image as “abysmal,” adding that inertia has been “hanging over this country like a blanket of fog for years.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer was Merkel’s chosen successor after the chancellor, who has led Germany for 14 years, announced she would not seek a new term in elections scheduled for 2021. However, she faced immediate hurdles. Kramp-Karrenbauer took over a party split between centrist and right-wing voices over Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open Germany’s doors to more than a million largely Middle Eastern refugees, many of whom were fleeing the war in Syria.

Kramp-Karrenbauer’s position as party leader was also weakened by her lack of executive authority, analysts say.

“She’s been number one in the party, but not number one in the government,” said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin. “That’s been a problem.”

In an apparent attempt to bolster her credibility, Merkel appointed Kramp-Karrenbauer defense minister in July.

Neugebauer said the slip in voter support has energized rivals such as Merz, even though the party’s “overall strategy” is more to blame for its decline.

“She has no respect,” he said of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s standing, but added that he thinks she will be able to stand up to the “old boys’ network” in the party and remain its candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor.

In an apparent reference to Merkel’s tenure, Kramp-Karrenbauer said Friday that it has been a “good 14 years” for Germany.

Speaking later, Merz appeared to have backtracked, calling Kramp-Karrenbauer’s speech “courageous” and “forward-looking.”

“We are loyal to our chairman, to our party leadership and to the federal government,” he said.

Hans Kundnani, a Germany expert at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said it would be wrong to think Kramp-Karrenbauer is “safe.”

“They would like to find someone else,” he said of the party. “It’s just a matter of whether they have time and a candidate emerges in the meantime.”

Her fate could also turn on whether the ruling coalition lasts until 2021, with the Christian Democrats’ main partner also shedding voters.

Only 19% of Germans think Kramp-Karrenbauer would be a good chancellor, according to a recent poll by ARD-DeutschlandTrend. That compared with 42% for Merz.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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