German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party delayed a decision on who will be its new leader after postponing a convention planned for early December because of Covid-19.
Current leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer succeeded Ms Merkel in late 2018, but will not run for chancellor in 2021 and will step down as chair of the Christian Democratic Union after struggling to impose her authority.
Whoever wins the leadership race will be in prime position to become the centre-right candidate for chancellor.
The CDU was still hoping to hold an in-person congress at a later date rather than a video conference, but acknowledged that the online format might be the only option if the pandemic cannot be brought under control.
Earlier this year an April convention to choose the new CDU leader was cancelled because of the pandemic.
The three choices are Friedrich Merz, 64, a conservative former leader of its parliamentary group who spent years away from front-line politics; Armin Laschet, 59, the more liberal governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state; and Norbert Roettgen, 55, who chairs parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
Mr Merz criticised the delay and claimed members of the party wanted to prevent him becoming leader. The party hopes to decide on 14 December on when the choice will be made. If not then, at a meeting scheduled for 15-16 January.
Germany’s new Covid-19 infections have been increasing by record numbers at times over the past two weeks, athough they are still considerably short of the numbers seen in many other European countries. The handling of the pandemic by Ms Merkel, 66, has been largely well received in Germany, as evidenced by the CDU's strong showing in the polls.