Right-wing veteran Friedrich Merz, Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair Norbert Röttgen and Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun have all thrown their hats in the ring ahead of a Wednesday deadline.
Merz and Röttgen are both running for the second time in 12 months, having lost to former North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet in the last contest in early 2021.
Laschet led the conservative CDU and the smaller CSU to their worst post-war election result in September. The bloc came second to the Social Democrats (SPD) led by chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is likely to become the next chancellor.
The SPD is in talks with the Greens and the liberal FDP to form a ruling coalition and hopes to have a new government in place by early December, leaving the conservatives in opposition.
Braun, 49, is a former doctor who has played a key role in managing the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Close to Merkel but little known to the general public, he had previously shown no ambitions to lead the party, with his candidacy coming as a surprise
Merz, 66, who also tried unsuccessfully to become the CDU leader in 2018, is a pro-business liberal who has gathered figures on the right-wing of the CDU behind him for his latest bid.
Meanwhile, Röttgen, 56, a former environment minister under Merkel, is running to keep the party in the centre of German politics.
The new leader will be chosen by an unprecedented rank-and-file vote among 400,000 CDU members before being formally elected at a congress on January 21st and 22nd in Hanover.
Previous leaders have been elected by a much smaller number of delegates at a party congress.