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On an emotional leave for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Christian Democratic Union party delegates gathered to elect a successor in Hamburg, the city where Merkel was born.
Merkel, 64, will pass the baton to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, Secretary General of the CDU and a strong supporter of the Chancellor. "AKK", as some Germans affectionately call it to avoid stumbling in his name, was Merkel's favorite candidate, at least according to many German media and analysts, because the chancellor has never publicly supported anyone. Kramp-Karrenbauer defeated his party partner, Friedrich Merz, a convinced rival of Merkel and former leader of the party's parliamentary group.
In view of the vote, Merkel seemed a little tired and unusually stuck in her words during her 30-minute speech before the vote.
However, Merkel has kept her message simple and straightforward as she has over 18 years as a Christian Democrat leader. He also took a moment to make fun of himself for being no frills and "dry bones".
During her speech, Merkel invited the party to unite and show the Germans that they can lead their country through turbulent times of increasing polarization and crises such as war, terrorist attacks and climate change. Merkel said the CDU is apt to do so if it sticks to its core values, but at the same time remains open to change and looks to the future rather than the past.
"Now is the time to open a new chapter", and bring a new leadership, Merkel said. "At this moment I feel a sense of overwhelming gratitude, it was a great pleasure for me, it was an honor for me."
The delegates stood up and gave a long ovation to their longtime leader, with some holding signs that simply said, "Thank you, boss." Merkel returned to the stage to recognize the crowd several times with nods, smiles and waves. She finally returned to the microphone and reminded the delegates that they still had "a lot of work to do". And so they did, since the three-way race for Merkel's successor was on.
In the first round of voting on Friday, Kramp-Karrenbauer arrived by receiving first 450 votes from the delegates, but did not get a majority. Then a runoff between her and the second best wizard Merz was held. Merz, 63, advocates a more conservative and harsher approach of the party than Merkel and, in recent weeks, has advocated a more combative approach to silence those of the CDU center.
Kramp-Karrenbauer beat Merz shortly in the ballot by winning 517 votes in his 482. After the results were announced, a crying Kramp-Karrenbauer embraced Merkel and kissed her cheek. Merkel, a mentor of the newly elected successor, smiled broadly and seemed happier than he had for months, while now facing a less turbulent transition from a political standpoint when he hands over the government at the end of his office as chancellor in 2021 .
Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was once the premier of the small German state of the Saar and relatively new on the national political stage, is practically sure to be the successor candidate of the CDU to the chancellor in those German national elections. But the mother of three also inherits the difficult task of ending the CDU's poor success in the last three years in local, regional and national elections, as well as reconquering hundreds of thousands of voters.
Many of them abandoned the right-wing alternative for Germany on Merkel's controversial decision to openly welcome asylum seekers in 2015 when hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others traveled to Germany and other countries of the European Union to escape war and poverty.
After his victory, Kramp-Karrenbauer immediately extended a branch of olive oil to Merz and his other key adversary, the German health minister Jens Spahn.
"There is a place for both in this party," said Kramp-Karrenbauer, adding the renewed confidence that the party elections have aroused in the Germans "must continue and must be connected with the goal that unites us all, to preserve and form the party of our great people. "
Some German observers predict that even if his CDU party joins behind her in the next few years, Kramp-Karrenbauer has a long way to go to persuade German voters and the great European Union to be a stabilizing and powerful chancellor like Merkel.