Merkel Party Urges Unity After Election Loss

BERLIN (AP) -- The leader of outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party urged supporters Saturday to emulate the unity and discipline of their victorious opponents, declaring that it only can start winning again if members learn to stand together.

Armin Laschet has indicated his readiness to step down as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, the bigger of two parties in Germany's center-right Union bloc, though it's not yet clear how and when a successor will be chosen. As the Union's candidate for chancellor, Laschet led the bloc to its worst-ever national election result on Sept. 26, when it finished second behind the center-left Social Democrats.

Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, took full responsibility for the defeat while attending a Saturday congress of the Union's youth wing in Muenster.

"I am responsible for the election campaign, and no one else," he said.

But he also pointed to the Union's cacophonous behavior during the campaign. Laschet was nominated to run for chancellor in April after a bruising internal battle with more popular rival Markus Soeder, the leader of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union party. Sniping from the CSU and other Soeder backers persisted in the following months.

The Social Democrats, by contrast, who themselves have seen plenty of infighting in recent years, decided last year that outgoing Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz would be their candidate to succeed Merkel and united behind him.

"That is what we have to learn," Laschet said. "Any mayoral election will be lost if there's a decision that ?he or she is our candidate,' and afterward those who weren't chosen say ?Yes, but we had a better one.'"

"The Social Democrats showed how you can run a united election campaign despite contrasts," he added. "That was once the Union's strength, and it must in the future become the Union's strength once again...We must again learn this virtue of standing together if we want to win elections in the future."

Scholz, who pulled his party out of a long poll slump, now appears on course to become Germany's next leader in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. Laschet, who pledged before the election to go into national politics whatever the outcome, plans to step down as North Rhine-Westphalia's governor later this month.