German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hand over the reins of her party, Christian Democratic Union on Friday after nearly two decades in charge.
The contest’s outcome is expected to be crucial in deciding whether Merkel, Europe’s most influential leader, can realise her stated goal of completing her fourth term in 2021 and then leaving politics.
Merkel is quitting the helm of the CDU after a series of poll setbacks rooted in controversy over her liberal refugee policy.
“I hope we emerge from this party conference well-equipped, motivated and united,” Merkel said, after accepting a standing ovation from delegates in Hamburg, many holding “Thanks, boss” placards aloft.
“I am confident we will succeed.”
Merkel has led Germany since 2005, and moved her party steadily toward the political centre.
More generous family leave, an exit from nuclear power and an end to military conscription are among her signature policies.
The two main candidates, CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as AKK, and corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz, are locked in a battle over whether to embrace or break with the veteran chancellor’s legacy.
A third contender, Health Minister Jens Spahn, an outspoken critic of Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome more than one million asylum seekers to Germany, is running a distant third.