Members of Germany's biggest opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of former Chancellor Angela Merkel, elected Friedrich Merz as their new leader, the party announced on Friday.
Merz, making his third run for the CDU's top post, won with 62.1% support in a vote among the party's members, beating two centrist contenders — Norbert Röttgen and Helge Braun.
His share of the vote was easily more than the 50% and one vote needed to prevent a runoff.
The CDU and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) suffered an election defeat under the leadership of Armin Laschet, who had hoped to replace now former-Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the wake of that loss, Laschet stepped down, from the CDU leadership role.
Merz seeks common ground
The three contenders in the vote were Merz, centrist Röttgen who is a former environment minister on his second leadership run, and centrist Braun who was Merkel's chief of staff from 2018 until last week.
The 66-year-old Merz vowed to "stand for the party in its full breadth," adding that "different political opinions and directions" will have a voice.
"We won't engage in fundamental opposition," he said. "We will be a constructive opposition."
Nearly two-thirds of the CDU's 400,000 members took part in the vote. A vote by the party base to choose a leader is rare for the CDU, with the task usually falling to higher-ups in the party. Officially, the new party leader will be elected by the 1,001 delegates at a digital party convention in late January.
More than a decade after leaving parliament, Merz is still the darling of the CDU's conservative wing. A staunch Catholic, he opposed the liberalization of the CDU under Merkel over the past 20 years.
DW's political correspondent Hans Brandt, who was at CDU headquarters in Berlin on Friday, said: "Angela Merkel basically pushed him out. He then spent many years in business and only recently, when Angela Merkel said she was stepping down, only then did he get back into active politics.
"Merz is clearly somebody from the pre-Merkel era so it does appear to be a step backwards in a sense," Brandt added.
German political scientist Albrecht von Lucke told DW that Merz will be "totally different to Angela Merkel" and "a very aggressive opposition leader."
"I think it's not a bad thing for the CDU because now the position has changed," von Lucke said. "Now they are in the opposition and now you have to be aggressive, you must be strong. That's what Friedrich Merz is."
Economic policy renewal
Merz has promoted economic policy renewal and complained about bureaucratic hurdles for companies because of regulatory requirements, such as environmental protection.
The new leader is expected to reshuffle positions in the party and set the agenda for its run in opposition as it attempts to rebuild following the election defeat. They will also be tasked with patching up relations with the CSU, which were strained by competing runs for chancellor-candidacy by Laschet and the more-popular Bavarian Markus Söder (CSU).
Merkel relinquished party leadership in 2018 and did not seek a fifth term as chancellor.
jsi, aw/sms (AP, AFP, dpa)