BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) will choose a new leader in mid-January, the party's general secretary said on Saturday after a Dec. 4 party congress was postponed due to the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.
The decision on Monday to postpone the choice of a new leader had stoked internal divisions in the party, with one candidate - Friedrich Merz - accusing some in the CDU establishment of opposing him for the job.
The party's three leadership candidates - Merz, Armin Laschet and Norbert Roettgen - have agreed to hold the congress in mid-January, CDU general secretary Paul Ziemiak announced on Twitter.
"Unity in the CDU is important for Germany, particularly in such difficult times," Ziemiak said, adding that the candidates all prefer a meeting in person, but if that is not possible, they appeal for an online meeting with digital voting.
The final details will be hammered out by the party's leadership on Dec. 14, he said.
Top CDU officials had expressed concerns about party cohesion and discipline - usually a strength - going into election year 2021, especially as Merz strengthened the fears by crying foul over the postponement of the party congress.
At stake is the leadership of Europe's biggest economy in the era after Merkel, who has vowed not to run again at elections due next autumn after looming large on the European stage since 2005 and proving a winner with German voters.
The CDU's popularity has been boosted by Merkel's competent handling of the pandemic, with far lower infection rates in Germany than in neighbouring countries.
Opinion polls show Merz is more popular with CDU members than Laschet, who is premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Roettgen, a foreign policy expert. But the party elite, to whom the delegates are close, favour Laschet.
Germany must hold its next federal election by Oct. 24, 2021 at the latest.
(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Daniel Wallis)