The Christian Democratic Union will elect a new leader in a vote that could define what the party will look like in a post-Merkel era.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (on screen) is announced by Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Secretary General Paul Ziemiak during the party's 33rd congress held online amidst the coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, Germany, January 15, 2021.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (on screen) is announced by Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Secretary General Paul Ziemiak during the party's 33rd congress held online amidst the coronavirus pandemic, in Berlin, Germany, January 15, 2021. (Reuters)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has opened a party convention that will see members choose a new leader of her centre-right Christian Democrats, a decision that will help shape voters' choice after her 16-years in office.

Merkel, 66, has been looked on by many as a bedrock of stability at the helm of Europe's largest economy through multiple crises, most recently the coronavirus pandemic, but said two years ago she will not seek a fifth term as chancellor.

In an opening statement on Friday, Merkel said that since elected chancellor in 2005 the world had "changed dramatically."

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In the online convention, members of the Christian Democratic Union are choosing on Saturday between three men to take over as leader of the party, a role that Merkel gave up in 2018. That person will either run for chancellor in Germany's September 26 election, or have a large say in who does.

Merkel's preferred candidate, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer who took over as party leader when Merkel herself stepped down, announced her resignation last February after failing to impose her authority on the party.

There is no clear front-runner among the three candidates: Friedrich Merz, a 65-year-old who is more conservative than Merkel who has been in the private sector for about a decade; Armin Laschet, the 59-year-old governor of North Rhine-Westphalia who is viewed as likely to continue Merkel's centrist approach; and Norbert Roettgen, 55, who was fired by Merkel as environment minister and calls himself a candidate for the "modern centre."

Analysts predict no candidate will emerge after the first ballot as the clear winner, prompting a run-off vote between the top two.

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Source: AP