By Ayhan Simsek </p> <p> </p> <p>BERLIN (AA) - Chancellor Angela Merkel’s preferred candidate Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has won the race on for the leadership of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. </p> <p> </p> <p>IIn a knife-edge runoff on Friday, the 56-year-old conservative politician won 517 votes from the CDU delegates, at a party conference in Hamburg.</p> <p> </p> <p>Her main rival Friedrich Merz, an outspoken critic of Merkel’s liberal refugee policy, got 482 votes. </p> <p> </p> <p>Earlier on Friday, Kramp-Karrenbauer called on the CDU delegates to be more courageous and self-confident to address the challenges of 21st century, to strengthen the European Union and defend the “rules-based international order.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Merz, for his part, criticized Merkel’s open door policy for refugees, and called for a “new start” for the CDU, with a new strategy on various political issues. </p> <p> </p> <p>He pledged to win back voters the CDU has lost to the far-right Alternative for Germany, or the AfD. </p> <p> </p> <p>Merkel, who led the Christian Democrats for 18 years, announced in October that she will not run for the chair again amid heavy losses of her party in regional elections. </p> <p> </p> <p>But Merkel underlined that she wanted to remain chancellor until her term ends in 2021.