New head of Merkel party seeks to build bridges with rivals

Chancellor Angela Merkel's successor at the helm of Germany's main center-right party sought to consolidate her power on Saturday after a narrow victory, installing a young conservative in a key leadership post in an effort to build bridges with her rivals.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, an ally of Merkel who is close to her centrist stance, was elected as chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union on Friday.

She defeated Friedrich Merz, a one-time Merkel rival who stood for a more decisive break from the longtime chancellor's era, and Health Minister Jens Spahn, was eliminated in the first round of voting.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, showed Saturday that she is keen to prevent lasting divisions and to give conservatives and younger members a strong voice.

She nominated Paul Ziemiak, the 33-year-old leader of the party's youth wing, to serve as her general secretary — the official in charge of day-to-day political strategy and the job she held herself until she was elected leader.

"This party is not split — we all have the task of working on the unity of this party," she told a party congress.

Ziemiak, who ran unopposed, won the support of 62.8 percent of delegates, a result that suggested Kramp-Karrenbauer still has work to do on uniting the CDU.

Ziemiak is further to the right than Kramp-Karrenbauer, is considered a friend of Spahn and comes from the same region as Merz.

Merkel plans to continue as chancellor for the rest of this parliamentary term. The next election isn't due until 2021, but it's uncertain whether her coalition with the center-left Social Democrats will last that long.

Kramp-Karrenbauer is the favorite to run for chancellor in the next election, though that isn't automatic.