Local members of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats have quit in protest at Angela Merkel’s chosen successor winning the race to lead the party.
Just a day after the CDU appeared to end weeks of infighting by voting in Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as "mini Merkel", delegates at the party’s congress told The Sunday Telegraph of a wave of resignations among rank and file members.
Victory for Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer is seen by many as a failure of the party to learn from the mistakes of Mrs Merkel, and a missed opportunity to regain ground on the Right on key issues such as immigration.
Party delegates from several regions of Germany confirmed that members left the CDU after Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer defeated pro-business figure Frierdich Merz by a mere 35 of the 999 delegate votes on Friday. One prominent party figure confirmed that “very many” of the party rank and file had quit.
The contest, which sets the stage for the CDU to maintain its moderate edge after Mrs Merkel steps down in 2021, laid bare divisions that have been simmering inside the CDU over Ms Merkel’s refugee policies and her perceived anti-business instincts.
In her victory speech on Friday, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer – often referred to simply as AKK – stressed that the party now needed to come together.
But many delegates at the conference were left deflated by what they see as a vote for the continuation of policies that have lost the party millions of voters to the populist AfD and the Greens in recent months.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer was tapped by Ms Merkel to take over the powerful role of party general-secretary in February, a move widely interpreted as positioning her to become Chancellor.
During campaigning the 56-year-old made it her mission to convince people she wasn’t the mini-Merkel, as the German press have labelled her. Nonetheless Mr Merz, who hasn’t been in frontline politics for over a decade, represented the clearest break with the Merkel era. He repeatedly harangued the party hierarchy for failing to stop the rise of the AfD.
“The CDU had a chance to change its course and it didn’t take it,” Urban Lanig, a delegate from southern state of Baden-Württemberg, said on Saturday. Seven people have left his local party chapter in the past 24 hours, he said.
Describing AKK’s policy positions as “a cheap imitation of the Social Democrats,” Mr Urban said the CDU would continue its tailspin in popularity under its new leader.
Carsten Linnemann, head of the powerful CDU trade association, told The Sunday Telegraph that “many people are very disappointed and it’s going to take time for them to get over it. Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer needs to now set her own tone and give the party a clear profile that distinguishes it from the opposition.”
Others talked down the significance of the resignations.
“There have been threats of resignations in our local chapter, but I wouldn’t take it too seriously,” a delegate from the north said. “These things happen when you have a new party leader.”