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Angela Merkel's party choosing successor to longtime German leader

Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer is the new leader of the Christian Democratic Union

Angela Merkel bowed out as leader of her Christian Democrats on Friday (Dec 7) with an emotional speech to her conservative party as it met to pick her successor who will move into pole position to become Germany's next chancellor.

The CDU general secretary won 517 of the 999 votes cast.

But she clinched only a narrow victory over Friedrich Merz, a long-time Merkel rival, in a run-off vote in Hamburg, with 51.8% of the vote.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a former state governor and now the general secretary of the CDU, is regarded as one of the favourites to succeed Merkel.

HAMBURG-Chancellor Angela Merkel's party celebrated her 18 years as its leader with a lengthy standing ovation on Friday as it prepared to elect a successor who could help shape Germany's political direction for the next generation.

Nevertheless, Merkel kept her message simple and straightforward as she has over 18 years as leader of the Christian Democrats.

Merz, who was the CDU's parliamentary leader until he was pushed out of the job by Merkel in 2002, had sought a spectacular comeback in yesterday's vote after a decade away from front-line politics.

Waving orange cards with the slogan "Thank you boss", delegates cheered as Merkel, 64, walked onto the stage at the conference center in Hamburg, her birthplace, to end an era for the party.

"The times today are challenging for our country, for our party, with the AfD on the right and a polarization of society", Merkel warned in her speech.

A third contender, Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, an outspoken critic of Merkel's 2015 decision to welcome more than one million asylum seekers to Germany, is running a distant third.

While Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, is viewed as similar to Merkel with an even temper and middle-of-the-road policies, Merz, 63, has become the torchbearer for those seeking a more decisive break from the chancellor.

Outlining the multiple challenges facing Germany, from rapidly changing technology to climate change and a global shift away from multilateralism to defending national interests, she said: "In times like these, we will defend our liberal views, our way of life, both at home and overseas".

The CDU had won four national elections under her, and Merkel said it was due to holding true to its principles.

"This Europe, this Germany, this world needs a strong CDU".

Merkel announced in October she would give up the reins in her party, though she has said she plans to remain chancellor until the end of the current term in 2021.

"Leadership is more about the inner strength than outer volume".

For years, Merkel's popularity lifted the CDU and its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union.

Merz had made his plea for the CDU to wrest back voters who have defected to the far-right Alternative for Germany, a situation he called "unacceptable". The most recent opinion polls put the CDU between 27% and 30%.

"There is still huge respect for Merkel because she gave stability in Europe at a time when things were rocky", said Judy Dempsey, a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank.

"We are facing a turning point and need a breakthrough for the next years".

"In times like these, we will defend our liberal views, our way of life, both at home and overseas", Merkel told deputies according to Reuters.