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Germany: Merkel's party chooses conservative Merz as leader

Members of Germany's biggest opposition party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union of former Chancellor Angela Merkel, chose prominent conservative Friedrich Merz as its new leader, the party said Friday.

Merz, making his third run for the CDU's top post, won 62.1% support in a ballot of the party's membership, beating two centrist contenders. His share of the vote was easily enough to avoid a runoff ballot.

Armin Laschet, the CDU's leader since January, is stepping down after leading the two-party Union bloc to its worst-ever election result in September. The bloc, which the CDU dominates, was narrowly beaten by the center-left Social Democrats of new Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

From left, candidate Helge Braun, new elected party chairman Friedrich Merz and candidate Norbert Roettgen, attend a press conference of the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU) at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 to announce the results of a ballot on who will become its new leader. (AP PhotoMichael Sohn)

Merz, 66, has experience of being an opposition leader. He led the center-right group in parliament from 2000 to 2002, when Merkel pushed him out of that job. He left parliament in 2009 and later practiced as a lawyer and headed the supervisory board of investment manager BlackRock’s German branch.

Merz returned to parliament in the September election. The online and postal ballot of the CDU's roughly 400,000-strong membership was a first for the party. It said that nearly two-thirds of members took part.

Merz's rivals were left far behind in the membership ballot. Norbert Roettgen, a former environment minister who has chaired parliament’s foreign policy committee in recent years, finished with 25.8% support in his second bid for the party post.

From left, candidate Helge Braun, new elected party chairman Friedrich Merz and candidate Norbert Roettgen, attend a press conference of the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU) at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 to announce the results of a ballot on who will become its new leader. (AP PhotoMichael Sohn)

Helge Braun, who was Merkel's chief of staff from 2018 until she left office last week, won 12.1%.

Merz failed to win the party leadership by fairly narrow margins at party conventions in 2018 and in January, losing first to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and then to Laschet. Roettgen was third in the contest in January.

A party congress next month will have to sign off officially on the membership vote but that should only be a formality.

New elected party chairman Friedrich Merz, left, and candidate Norbert Roettgen, right, attend a press conference of the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU) at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 to announce the results of a ballot on who will become its new leader. (AP PhotoMichael Sohn)

Merkel gave up the party leadership in 2018 and announced that she wouldn't seek a fifth term as chancellor.