Ballot count confirms Laschet as leader of Merkel's party

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File---File picture taken Jan.16, 2021 shows the new party leader Armin Laschet sitting on the podium at the digital federal party conference of the CDU. Laschet was elected last weekend as the new leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union, in an online vote that required formal confirmation by postal ballot.(Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP,file)

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party said Friday that Armin Laschet, the governor of Germany’s most populous state, has been confirmed as its new leader.

The 59-year-old centrist came first in an online vote by party delegates Saturday, ahead of conservative rival Friedrich Merz. Under German law the election had to be officially endorsed with a postal ballot.

Laschet received 796 out of 980 valid ballots, amounting to over 83% of the vote. He is the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, which has a population of about 17 million.

The party's new chairman will be a strong contender to lead the Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, into this year's national election, in which Merkel will not run again.

A decision on who to put forward for chancellor ahead of the Sept. 26 election will have to be made together with the CDU's Bavaria-only sister party. That will likely happen after regional election in several German states take place in March.