Digital instead of normal, the CDU finally elects its new party leader. Three men from North Rhine-Westphalia want the job, but the path to the decision is uncharted territory. Everything about the “digital edition” of the CDU party congress.
Why does the CDU need a new party leader?
For a long time there was an irrevocable rule in the CDU: whoever rules the country remains the head of the party. That was true for Konrad Adenauer, for Helmut Kohl – and for 18 years also for Angela Merkel. After a series of defeats in state elections, Merkel resigned from her post in 2018. As her successor, Merkel’s preferred candidate Annegret-Kramp Karrenbauer narrowly prevailed against Friedrich Merz in December 2018. However, Kramp-Karrenbauer failed a little more than a year later. In the discussion about the election of the FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich as Prime Minister of Thuringia with the help of the votes of the AfD, her lack of assertiveness was accused. Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her retirement as party chairman in February.
Who is applying for the chief position?
Three men from North Rhine-Westphalia. Armin Laschetwho tries above all to score points with his experience as NRW Prime Minister. The qualified lawyer stands for the liberal wing of the Union and promotes a renewal of the CDU without a hard break with Merkel. He has long been considered a favorite, also because he is on the team with Jens Spahn, who was previously also a candidate.
Friedrich Merz Most likely stands for a course of demarcation against Merkel’s policy, even if he recently rejected it. The 65-year-old was a Union faction leader in the Bundestag a long time ago, but then had to give way to Merkel. He serves the Union’s conservative clientele and demands a “clear economic policy profile” from his party. Norbert Röttgen started the race as an outsider but was able to catch up a lot in the end. The 55-year-old tries to distinguish himself as an innovator. Röttgen is a foreign politician, a long time ago he was Federal Environment Minister, but was kicked out by Merkel.
Why is the CDU voting only now?
Actually, the new boss was supposed to be elected at a special party conference on April 25th (there is still no candidate). The meeting was canceled due to the corona pandemic. The alternative date at the beginning of December could not be kept either. Kramp-Karrenbauer got an extension until January. For a long time it was unclear how to vote. A physical meeting of 1001 delegates could not be arranged and ultimately not allowed due to Corona. A purely digital party congress with election of the chairman was again not possible because party law forbids this.
How do you vote now?
Since the 1001 CDU delegates cannot be there in person due to the corona pandemic, the vote is digital. The CDU speaks of a “digital preselection”. Only the closest tour around Kramp-Karrenbauer, the three candidates Laschet, Merz and Röttgen as well as technicians and security guards will be present in the party conference studio on the Berlin exhibition grounds.
In addition to the public access to the party congress, the delegates have their own delegate website. You can vote in a digital voting booth. The delegates are not allowed to photograph their voting decision and then publish it on social media – this could lead to legal problems in the secret ballot.
The delegates received the access data for the platform in a secure way. The IT solution used has been certified by the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). A double vote is not possible according to the CDU and multiple counting of individual votes is excluded.
Is the election secret?
The CDU promises that the principles for a free and secret election are guaranteed. According to reports, this is made possible by the use of encryption technology for electronic voting. After the system has determined that the delegate is entitled to vote, the identity of the person entitled to vote is anonymized using a so-called token, similar to a payment with Apple Pay. The dealer only knows that an amount has been paid – but not who the money came from. With the token procedure at the CDU party conference, it is not possible to understand how a delegate voted, only that he voted.
Why is there an additional postal vote?
With the election, the CDU is entering new technical and legal territory and therefore wants to be on the safe side legally with the subsequent postal vote. For the analogue election, however, after a preliminary agreement among the candidates – NRW Prime Minister Laschet, ex-Union parliamentary group leader Merz and foreign politician Röttgen – all three candidates should no longer be on the postal ballot, but only the winner of the digital election. After the count on January 22nd, the legal winner should finally be determined.
It would be conceivable – but unlikely – that the delegates vote differently in the final postal vote than they did before in the digital vote. The n, however, the CDU would have a big problem, just like with possible hacker attacks on the election process.
Since not only the party leadership will be reassigned, but also the entire other party leadership, apart from General Secretary Paul Ziemiak, the delegates will then have to fill out several ballot papers.
What is the schedule of the party congress?
It starts on Friday at 6 p.m. This is followed by a speech by the still party leader Kramp-Karrenbauer, it is practically her farewell speech. The n there are greetings from Merkel, Markus Söder, Ursula von der Leyen – all of them are switched on via video. General Secretary Ziemiak, however, will present his report in the empty hall – the party conference studio. The first day should end around 9 p.m.
The second day – Saturday – Ziemiak opens at 9:30 a.m. The three candidates then each have around 15 minutes to introduce themselves and to advertise themselves one last time – without an audience, without applause. Whoever can cope best with this situation should have a huge advantage.
It is very likely that there will be a runoff because none of the candidates was able to stand out in the polls. And that too does not take place under normal circumstances. Because usually between the ballots there is a lot of haggling over where the loser’s votes should go. This is more difficult when all the delegates are sitting in their living rooms.
Which candidate has the best chance?
It’s very difficult to say. The re is no clear favorite. In the polls, Merz is ahead, followed by Röttgen and Laschet. But what does that mean? 1001 CDU delegates vote, not the grassroots and certainly not the general population.
The situation is also diffuse within the CDU. Merz can hope for support from the East German state associations, as well as from Hamburg, Baden-Württemberg and the Junge Union. The Women’s Union, however, favored Laschet or Röttgen. Still party leader Kramp-Karrenbauer signaled, at least indirectly, support for the NRW Prime Minister. Hesse’s head of government Volker Bouffier and the parliamentary group leaders from North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Bremen, Thuringia and Brandenburg also recently promoted Laschet. Outsider candidate Röttgen has no house power and no powerful advocates in the party, but there are members of the Bundestag who speak out openly for him. Bremen’s state chairman Carsten Meyer-Heder also supports him.
Will the party leader also become the candidate for chancellor?
That is possible, but a decision is expressly not made at this party congress. So it remains to be seen who will be the Union’s candidate for chancellor for the federal elections in the autumn. The CDU and CSU want to decide this together – probably in the spring, possibly after the first state elections in mid-March in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg. Names other than those of the three presidency candidates are also circulating. It has been speculated for a long time whether Bavaria’s Prime Minister Söder will enter the race for the Union. So far, the CSU boss has only flirted and basks in his good polls. But Jens Spahn is also traded as a possible candidate for chancellor.