By Ayhan Simsek </p> <p>BERLIN (AA) - Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU) are set to vote on Friday to choose Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor as party leader in a knife-edge election. </p> <p>Recent surveys showed around 48 percent of the CDU voters backed Merkel loyalist Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer for the leadership, while 35 percent supported Friedrich Merz, an outspoken critic of Merkel’s refugee policy. </p> <p>It was not clear how the electorate’s choice would be reflected in the decision of 1,001 delegates, who will gather in Hamburg to elect the new party chair. </p> <p>Parliament speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble, one of Germany's most powerful politicians, announced his support for Merz, in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Wednesday. </p> <p>Several other key figures of the CDU, including EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, also backed Merz for the CDU leadership. </p> <p>The 62-year-old candidate, branded by critics as “Trump light,” had challenged Merkel in 2002, but lost the power struggle, and later withdrew from politics in 2009. </p> <p>Merkel’s right-hand man, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Thursday that he would support Kramp-Karrenbauer, as she would be the best candidate to lead the CDU. </p> <p>56-year-old Kramp-Karrenbauer was the premier of the southwestern German state of Saarland from 2011 ahd 2018, and in February this year she was promoted to CDU secretary-general. </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>But Merkel underlined that she wanted to remain chancellor until her term ends in 2021.