Analysts say that Friedrich Merz, considered a hard-line conservative of the CDU, has a good chance of becoming party leader and then chancellor nominee. Party delegates are expected to vote in January, with Armin Laschet, prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Norbert Rottgen, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, in contention. The latter is considered the least likely.
German analysts describe Friedrich Merz of the CDU as an old warrior, who, together with Armin Laschet and Norbert Rottgen, is vying for the party leadership seat (a position which in high likelihood will also double as German chancellor candidature) at the January party congress.
Merz is very popular with the CDU voting base, especially among those who oppose Merkel's immigration policy. Some voters may recall that at the time he opposed the criminalisation of marital rape, and many may be swayed in his favour because he supports the so-called "Leitkultur", which sees the path to integration of immigrants through promoting and exposing newcomers to German culture and traditions.
Even his political opponents acknowledge Merz's intelligence and that he is deeply informed on even the more complex political issues. However, at the same time, many find him arrogant and consider him Trump-like in speaking before thinking.
Some accuse him of lumping homosexuals in with paedophiles and altogether dismissing gender disputes as unnecessary. The politician refutes these accusations. When asked back in September, whether he would object to a homosexual chancellor for Germany, he replied, "Sexual orientation is none of the public's business. As long as it is legal and doesn't involve children — an absolute limit for me — it isn't a subject for public discussion."
Merz, now 65, was thwarted in his political ambitions by Merkel herself back in 2002, when she took over leadership of the CDU parliamentary group. A corporate lawyer by trade, Merz has spent most of the past nearly 20 years in the business sector with success. His name resurfaced on the political scene when Merkel stepped down as party leader in 2018. He nearly managed to defeat Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has since announced her resignation from both the party presidency and chancellor candidacy.
The CDU originally scheduled the early presidential election congress on 25 April of this year, but it was postponed due to the coronavirus epidemic and subsequently merged with the party leadership re-election congress scheduled for December. This, too, was postponed indefinitely. Merz criticised this decision, saying they wanted to prevent him from taking the presidency, and were just trying to buy time for their favoured candidate, Armin Laschet.
Although public opinion has no direct bearing on the party chairman selection, insight may be gleaned from a survey published by Der Spiegel this month, in which Merz took the lead with 26 per cent, followed by Rottgen and Laschet with 10.6 and 8.1 per cent, respectively.
The three candidates finally agreed in early November and requested the party leadership to convene a congress in mid-January; with in-person voting of the 1001 delegates should the pandemic situation permit, or contrarily allowing for an online vote preceded by coordinated regional consultations.
The alliance of the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is by far the largest political force in Germany. Voter support, according to the latest poll data released on Sunday, is 35 per cent, 16 percentage points higher than the 19 per cent support for the second-ranked Green party.