Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was elected Friday the new leader of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU).
German Chancellor and chairwoman of the German Christian Democratic Union Angela Merkel, is applauded after her farewell speech during a party convention in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.
The 56-year-old, now CDU general secretary, beat Friedrich Merz by 517 to 482 votes to clinch the leadership position.
By contrast, Mr Merz takes clear positions that appeal to rank-and-file party members hungry for a more clearly defined party after 13 years under Dr Merkel as chancellor.
The frontrunners are Ms Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a Merkel protege seen as the continuity candidate, and Mr Friedrich Merz, a Merkel rival who has questioned the constitutional guarantee of asylum to all "politically persecuted" and believes Germany, Europe's biggest economy, should contribute more to the European Union.
"She is a safe bet: a centrist candidate who does not threaten nasty surprises", said Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of weekly Die Zeit.
She was previously a popular governor of western Saarland state.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer has said she wants to improve on Ms Merkel's legacy and has suggested she would encourage debate within her party on issues such as immigration to encourage new proposals that could become government policy.
After a smattering of applause throughout the course of her final speech as CDU chief, Merkel was bid farewell with a rousing standing ovation that lasted about 10 minutes and included a brief encore.
Handpicked by Merkel as general secretary of the party in February, AKK was immediately seen as the chancellor's anointed crown princess.
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There was jubilation as the result of the run-off was announced. "And I'm still chancellor", she said.
While AKK, 56, is viewed as a keeper of the flame and similar to Merkel with an even temper and middle-of-the-road policies, Merz, 63, has become the torchbearer for those seeking a more decisive break with the chancellor. "I offer good teamwork".
The contest's outcome is expected to be crucial in deciding whether Merkel, Europe's most influential leader, can realise her stated goal of completing her fourth term in 2021 and then leaving politics.
The hardline Left party and the far-right Alternative for Germany lamented what they saw as the dawn of "Merkel 2.0".
"I'm afraid this means a continued struggle within the party about the right direction to take", says Brzeski to Yahoo Finance.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, has differentiated herself from Dr Merkel on social and foreign policy by voting in favour of quotas for women on corporate boards, opposed by Dr Merkel, and by taking a tougher line on Russian Federation. 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.
That practical, non-ideological approach is similar to the style Merkel has employed as chancellor.
"Schaeuble's manoeuvre shows: the CDU of the old Germany is trying to make a comeback", news weekly Der Spiegel said.
They were said to be reasonably close, and the lack of communication between the two raised eyebrows at the time.