German governor warns against lurking to right after Merkel resignation

BERLIN, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) — Armin Laschet, the German governor of North Rhine-Westphalia and vice-president of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), warned his party on Friday against lurking to the political right when Chancellor Angela Merkel steps down as party leader in December.

Laschet told the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that such a “change of tracks would be wrong” and announced that he would personally back a “course of the middle.” North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s most populous state and home to the CDU’s largest regional branch by the number of members.

Speaking to Suedeutsche Zeitung, Laschet also offered indirect criticism of recent comments made by health minister Jens Spahn (CDU) regarding asylum policy. “I for one think it is a mistake to create the impression again that migration is the biggest of all problems. This analysis is factually and politically incorrect and harmful,” the 57-year-old governor argued.

Announcing his candidacy for the CDU leadership recently, Spahn drew attention to what he described as “uncontrolled and largely male immigration” which needed to be limited.

While Laschet has not thrown his own hat into the ring for the leadership contest in December yet, he belongs to a group of Merkel allies within the CDU who share the veteran chancellor’s preference for moderate politics.

By contrast, candidates such as Spahn and the former CDU secretary general Friedrich Merz are outspoken critics of Merkel’s stance on migration and are both calling for a return to what they view as the party’s conservative roots.

Following a disappointing performance of the CDU in regional elections in Hesse last Sunday, Merkel has announced that she would no longer run for another term as party leader. Throughout her 13-year tenure as German chancellor, Merkel had previously insisted that the roles at the helm of the federal government and the party be held by the same person. The end of this long-standing tradition is widely interpreted in Germany as a further sign of the 64-year-old’s weakening grip on the CDU.

Ralph Brinkhaus, the CDU and Christian Social Union (CSU) parliamentary faction leader, emphasized in the papers of the Funke media group on Friday that the next party leader would have to be able “unite and balance” different internal factions. Brinkhaus noted that the CDU had lost voters to the Greens (Gruene) as well as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Hesse and that its aspiration now needed to be to “win back these voters.”

Taking a similar view to the one espoused by Laschet, Daniel Guenther (CDU), governor of Schleswig-Holstein, told Xinhua that the CDU should stick to its centrist credentials to improve its electoral fortunes again. “I am firmly convinced that we can only be successful in the long-run if we are rooted in the middle of society and have the ambition to make a political offer to this middle,” Guenther said.

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