Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer Elected Leader of Merkel's Party

Friedrich Merz former German Christian Democratic Union faction leader left Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer General Secretary of the CDU and Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn right all members

But the party opted for continuity and the endorsement of Mrs Merkel, who was elected CDU leader in 2000 and German Chancellor in 2005, and increased her chances of maintaining the current coalition government with the SPD and CSU until the end of term in 2021.

German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel holds a frame with a baton she was given by Volker Bouffier (right) and Klaus Schueler (left) representing CDU members during a party congress of Germany's conservative CDU party on December 7 at a fair hall in Hamburg, northern Germany.

This week, Merz - who has insisted in the face of widespread scepticism that he could work well with Merkel - won the backing of powerful former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, now the parliamentary speaker.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a 56-year-old Merkel acolyte, won the vote to succeed Merkel as head of Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU).

"I stand here just as I am, as life made me, and I'm proud of it", Kramp-Karrenbauer said in her final pitch to delegates. Federal health minister Jens Spahn came in third.

Most controversially, she allowed large numbers of asylum-seekers into Germany in 2015. More generous family leave, an exit from nuclear power and an end to military conscription are among her signature policies. This afternoon 1,001 CDU delegates will assemble in Hamburg to choose a new leader after 18 years under Mrs Merkel.

Party insiders say she gets on well with Merkel. She has pledged to listen to the party more than Merkel did, and to be less passive, and more willing to challenge the status quo, repeatedly using the complex phrase "the normative power of facts" ("die normative Kraft des Faktischen") to argue: "I will be less inclined to accept as immutable fact that things are the way they are".

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CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as AKK, is one of the candidates tipped to take over from Merkel.

'Now it is time to open a new chapter, ' Merkel said.

"Angela Merkel is one of our era's most globally respected leaders, a statesperson of formidable intellect, commitment, empathy, and principle", said Margaret Wang, president of the Harvard Alumni Association. "Opposing camps are forming".

Corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz is also in the running for the top spot.

AKK is believed to have Merkel's strong backing but much will depend on how deep and widespread the longing is for a stronger conservative profile.

It has lost support to the right, in the form of the upstart anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, and the resurgent Greens.

Armin Laschet, premier of Germany's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, said the CDU needed to begin projecting an image of unity ahead of European elections next May.

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