Merkel's party postpones congress to choose new leader due to coronavirus

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have postponed a conference scheduled for April 25 in Berlin to choose a new party leader due to the coronavirus and said it would reschedule as soon as the epidemic allowed.

The delay scuppers any hope of a quick resolution to the power struggle within the party after leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said last month she was giving up after an outcry over a regional branch of the CDU voting with the far-right.

“The health of the people in our country is the top priority for us,” said Kramp-Karrenbauer in a statement.

“Against the background of current forecasts of the spreading of COVID-19, the CDU congress planned for April 25 cannot take place,” she added.

Germany has recorded 1,567 cases of the coronavirus, according to the Robert Koch Institute, and four people have died. The government has recommended that events with more than 1,000 participants are canceled.

Public health efforts are now focused on slowing its spread to minimize the peak burden on the healthcare system. Social affairs minister Franziska Giffey said the elderly and their families should refrain from hugging or taking public transport.

Three main contenders for the CDU leadership are in the running, including Friedrich Merz, a former arch rival of Merkel who is promising a change in direction and Armin Laschet, premier of Germany’s biggest state, widely seen as a continuity candidate.

Foreign policy expert Norbert Roettgen is seen by most commentators as having only an outside chance.

The new leader of the CDU is in a strong position to run as chancellor in the next election, due by Oct. 2021, but that also has to be agreed with Bavarian conservatives.

Merkel, in charge of Europe’s biggest economy for nearly 15 years, has said she will not seek re-election.

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