The candidates vying to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of Germany’s Christian Democrat party (CDU) will face a gruelling schedule of eight regional hustings in as little as two weeks, it was announced Monday.
At the end lies the prize of leading Germany’s most powerful political party — and possibly the chancellorship.
Mrs Merkel told a press conference in Berlin Monday she is ready to work with whoever is chosen party leader and intends to stay on as chancellor until 2021.
But the new party leader will be in pole position to take over should her coalition government break up, forcing early elections.
Twelve candidates have so far announced their intention to stand, but only three are believed to have a realistic chance of winning: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the party chair; Jens Spahn, the health minister; and Friedrich Merz, a former rival of Mrs Merkel who retired from politics in 2009.
It is no secret Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer is Mrs Merkel’s preferred successor, but she insisted on Monday she is ready to work alongside any of the candidates, despite widespread suggestions the historic rivalry between her and Mr Merz could force her from office early if he wins.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's career, in pictures
“My relationship with Friedrich Merz has always been one in which we related as two political enthusiasts. Whenever we worked together, we always found solutions,” Mrs Merkel said. “Of course we didn’t always agree, but it rarely happens that you always agree with some one.”
The CDU has never had a three-way race for the leadership before and a run-off vote between the top-placed two candidates is planned if no one wins 50 per cent in the first round.
With the vote less than five weeks away, the party announced on Monday it will hold a series of eight regional hustings around the country to allow the candidates to present themselves and be questioned by party members.
Larger regional associations will hold their own hustings, while smaller ones will group together.
The hustings are not planned to begin until mid-November, and the party hopes to finish them by the end of the month, presenting candidates with a testing schedule.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer will step back from organising the election as party chairman as she is a candidate.
Instead Thomas de Maiziere, the former interior minister and a respected figure within the party, will take charge of the arrangements.