Narrow win for Angela Merkel's pick to lead conservatives

End of an era: Merkel passes torch to new party leader

The CDU general secretary won 517 of the 999 votes cast. (AAP) Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer reacts as she is elected the new leader of Germany's CDU party. However, it's possible that Germany's next general election could come earlier.

While she has called for tougher policies on refugees who commit crimes, AKK firmly backed Merkel's fateful 2015 decision to welcome more than one million asylum-seekers from crisis zones such as Syria and Iraq.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, narrowly defeated one-time Merkel rival Friedrich Merz to become the Christian Democratic Union's new chairwoman.

Markus Frohnmaier: I believe that she will do it till the end of her term, because for her power is very important and, of course, the fact that she had to change her opinion about this, that the head of the CDU also has be the Chancellor of Germany and the Chancellor of Germany needs to be the head of the CDU.

She stands next to Chancellor Angela Merkel at the CDU's federal congress of the CDU on December 7, 2018 in Hamburg, Germany.

"What is close to my heart is that in the last parliamentary term of my political career, I'll be able to make a contribution that allows the renewed success of the CDU while maintaining our interests in matters of state", Merkel told delegates.

A third candidate, 38-year-old Health Minister Jens Spahn, is seen as the outsider with little chance of victory.

She was previously a popular governor of western Saarland state.

Originally planning to become a midwife, the headmaster's daughter moved into politics during her teens, joining the CDU at the age of 19. She moved her party relentlessly to the center, dropping military conscription, accelerating Germany's exit from nuclear energy, introducing benefits encouraging fathers to look after their young children and allowing the introduction of gay marriage. She would be the most risky candidate to face the center-left Social Democrats and the ecologist Greens, he added.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel has celebrated her 18 years at the helm of Germany's main center-right party in her final speech as leader, urging members to show unity as it opens a new chapter.

"She is a safe bet: a centrist candidate who does not threaten nasty surprises", said Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of weekly Die Zeit.

Merkel told a party congress in Hamburg that "our CDU today is different from the year 2000, and that is a good thing".

Polling at around 30% - down from the 41.5% with which they won the 2013 vote - the party have lost votes to both the far-right Alternative for Germany and the liberal Green Party.

Whoever wins will face towering challenges for the party, which is now drawing roughly 30 per cent at the polls, far below the around 40 per cent enjoyed during Merkel's heyday.

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

"I wasn't born as chancellor or as party leader", she added.

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". 'I have always wanted to do my government and party jobs with dignity, and one day to leave them with dignity'.

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

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