Armin Laschet, Merkel ally, elected head of Germany’s CDU party

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Jan. 16 (UPI) — German Parliament member Armin Laschet was elected leader of the Christian Democrats and may be next in line to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel when she steps down in September.

Laschet, 59, who’s considered a centrist, was first elected to the Bundestag in 1994. He served as premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state.

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Laschet beat conservative businessman Friedrich Merz 521-466 in a runoff during the party’s online convention Friday.

“We’ll only win if we remain strong in the center of society,” Laschet said in a victory speech broadcast to more than 1,000 delegates. “We must ensure that this centre continues to have faith in us.”

As head of the CDU, Laschet will be in a good position to run for chancellor, continuing and expanding Merkel’s centrist policies to address climate change and promote stable economic growth. Laschet’s Catholic background is expected to swing support from Christian members within the party.

Markus Söder, the leader of the Christian Social Union, a Bavarian-based party, congratulated Laschet on Twitter.

“I’m looking forward to our cooperation! Together we will continue the Union’s success story,” he tweeted.

Laschet is seen as Merkel’s ally; he stood by her when she was criticized by opponents in 2015 when Germany was overwhelmed with hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers.

The head of the ruling CDU Party is not guaranteed to become chancellor in September, and others may be vying for the job, including Söder or Health Minister Jens Spahn, according to the BBC.