Armin Laschet, leader of Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on Monday evening secured the ticket to be his party's candidate to succeed Angela Merkel in September's election.
Laschet won 77.5 per cent of the vote at an internal party meeting. His rival, Markus Söder, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) — the CDU's sister party in Bavaria — was backed by 22.5 per cent of the vote.
"The die has been cast, Armin Laschet will be the candidate of the Conservative Union," Söder said, adding he would support him "without rancour and with all his strength" in the upcoming election.
Chancellor Merkel announced her fifth term would be her last in October 2018 and stepped down as CDU party leader.
Laschet, 60, seen as very close to Merkel politically, was selected as the party's new leader in January 2021 following the resignation of Annegret Kramp-Karrembauer.
The leader of Germany's most populous region, North Rhine-Westphalia, now has the task of leading the ruling union into a legislative battle that is more uncertain than ever. The union has been slipping in the polls, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to 27 per cent.
The task will be arduous for Laschet as his Bavarian rival was the favourite in the polls to keep the Conservatives in the chancellery.
According to a recent survey by the ARD channel, 44 per cent of Germans considered Söder capable of leading the conservatives in the elections, compared with 15 per cent for Laschet.
Söder had also been backed by the Young German Conservatives organisation but he was ultimately unable to sway enough of the "grassroots".
"Whoever wins will not be in a strong position. Söder or Laschet will know that they are starting an election campaign with only half of their base supporting them," commented the daily Handelsblatt on Monday ahead of the announcement.
Same analysis at Süddeutsche Zeitung, which warned that "whoever wins between Laschet and Söder, it will be very difficult to unite the divided troops in the face of a very disciplined Green party."
The environmentalist is the CDU/CSU's main rival in the election, scoring between 20-22 per cent in the polls. The party launched its first-ever bid for the Chancellery on Monday, choosing co-leader Annalena Baerbock as its candidate.