UPDATE 1-Merkel’s party chief wants quick decision on chancellor candidate as pressure mounts



(Adds Laschet quotes)

By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN, April 11 (Reuters) – The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, who wants to be their next candidate for chancellor in a September election, said on Sunday the party should make their choice of candidate very soon.

Christian Democrat (CDU) leader Laschet lags behind Markus Soeder, head of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), in opinion polls, but enjoys the support of some powerful state premiers.

Traditionally the leaders of the CDU and CSU decide between themselves who will run, but with uncertainty growing some lawmakers are demanding to have a say this time.

A growing number of conservatives are calling for them to speed up the process as a September election draws closer and the speculation around the leadership brings party divisions to the fore.

“If I take into account the mood across the CDU, the decision should come very quickly,” Laschet told Bild am Sonntag.

Laschet was speaking before a meeting on Sunday of leading members of the CDU’s and CSU’s joint parliamentary group, although he said no decision would be made then and that talks would cover a range of issues, including the COVID crisis.

However, with both Laschet and Soeder joining the meeting, speculation is rife that at least a procedure or timetable for a decision will be discussed.

Laschet, 60, is a centrist widely seen as a candidate who would continue Merkel’s legacy, but he has clashed with her over coronavirus restrictions. He has made clear that he wants the candidacy.

Soeder, 54, an astute political operator who has sided with Merkel during the pandemic, has not formally said he wants the role, saying his place is in Bavaria. No CSU leader has ever been German chancellor.

Many conservatives are nervous about contesting the September 26 election without Merkel, who has led them to four victories. She has ruled out standing for a fifth term.

The conservative bloc has slipped to about 27% in polls, partly due to an increasingly chaotic management of the pandemic. In the 2017 election, it won almost 33%.

The Social Democrats have nominated Finance Minister Olaf Scholz as their candidate for chancellor, while the Greens plan to announce their nomination on April 19. (Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mike Harrison and Raissa Kasolowsky)


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