Three men for a chair: the Christian Democratic Party of the German Chancellor, the CDU, elects its president on Saturday, a key ballot nine months from the end of the Angela Merkel era.
The winner will indeed be in a good position to be the Conservative leader in the legislative elections on September 26 and thus perhaps become the future chancellor. But he will not yet have the guarantee because this choice is planned later and other suitors remain in ambush.
The 1,001 delegates of this movement in power for 15 years must decide between the moderate Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz, supporter of a push to the right after the centrist era Merkel, or the outsider Norbert Röttgen.
The result of the ballot in two rounds, organized by internet or mail looks tight. It will be announced on Saturday during a fully online congress, Covid requires.
This election, already postponed several times due to the epidemic, follows the resignation of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, long “runner-up” to Ms. Merkel but forced to resign for lack of being able to win.
The three candidates have different profiles despite their shared Rhine origins.
Sworn enemy of the Chancellor since she ousted him from the presidency of the conservative group in the Bundestag in 2002, Friedrich Merz dreams of revenge.
Beaten by a hair by Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer in 2018, this dry businessman with an emaciated face mixes economic liberalism and tough positioning on immigration.
Mr. Merz dreams of attracting voters seduced by the extreme right.
This former lawyer is in the lead in the polls among supporters of the CDU. But Mr. Merz suffers from handicaps.
He does not exercise a mandate. His verbal provocations and his highly paid duties at asset manager BlackRock also damage his image.
Mr. Merz, 65, has recently amalgamated homosexuality and pedophilia, and railed against the restrictions during the holidays.
Armin Laschet, 59, has several strengths. This moderate, former journalist with laughing eyes, is indeed walking in the footsteps of Ms. Merkel, more popular than ever.
“The Christian-social orientation of the party is more important for it than for its competitors,” Ursula Münsch, professor of political science in Munich, told AFP.
Mr. Laschet can thus appeal to a centrist electorate and, if he is a candidate in September, build a possible coalition with the Greens, the country’s second force.
But his handling of the pandemic at the head of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous region in Germany, has earned him criticism. Mr Laschet thus pleaded in the spring for an easing of restrictions deemed too early by experts.
Promising on paper, the ticket he formed with Jens Spahn did not produce the expected sparks either. To the point that the popular Minister of Health had to deny – without completely convincing – that he was aiming for the candidacy for the chancellery in place of Mr. Laschet.
The third man, Mr Röttgen, 55, is the perfect outsider. Assuring not to be the man of a “camp”, this expert in international relations promises to rejuvenate and feminize the party.
He is, like Mr. Merz, a disappointment of Ms. Merkel, who brutally ousted him in 2012 from the Ministry of the Environment after an electoral debacle.
Whatever the winner of this internal election, the question of the candidacy for the chancellery will not be resolved until spring.
The imposing shadow of Markus Söder, leader of the Bavarian sister party CSU, who has become one of the favorite personalities of the Germans thanks to a cautious approach to the pandemic, indeed hangs over the conservative camp.
Even if he denies it, Mr Söder dreams of being invited by the CDU to take the plunge after a series of local elections in mid-March. And become, perhaps, the first chancellor from the CSU.
The future president of the CDU “certainly has a very good chance of running for chancellery”, tempers Thorsten Faas, professor of political science at the Free University of Berlin, however, who “sees badly the winner say + Markus Söder, present you please + ”.