BERLIN (Reuters) - Breaking with Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies is not the way to win Germany's federal election in September, the leader of her Bavarian sister party said as her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) prepares to elect a new leader on Saturday.
Merkel, who steps down after September's elections, is heading into the last months of her tenure with her conservative CDU squabbling over how to position the party following 15 years of rule marked by her instinct to compromise.
Markus Soeder, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU's Bavarian sister party, said it would be a mistake to break with her popular brand of politics, which is consensus orientated and centrist.
"Anyone who thinks they can win the Bundestag elections by breaking with Angela Merkel is fundamentally mistaken," Soeder told the Funke media group in comments published on Friday. Her legacy must be preserved and combined with new ideas, he said.
Friedrich Merz, a former Merkel rival who is contesting the CDU leadership, wants to shift the party to the right.
Merz is running against Armin Laschet, premier of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Norbert Roettgen, a foreign policy expert. Both are more centrist than Merz.
Soeder has signalled his support for Laschet, but may take on the role of conservative candidate to succeed Merkel if the winner of Saturday's CDU vote flops.
A survey by pollster Forsa for news network RND published on Friday showed 29% of voters would back Roettgen for the CDU leadership, 21% Merz and 19% Laschet. The leader will be elected at Saturday's digital congress by 1,001 party delegates.
Roettgen has suggested that if elected CDU leader he could back Soeder, who leads among conservatives in voter opinion polls, to run as chancellor candidate for their CDU/CSU alliance, the Union.
On the chancellor candidacy, Soeder told the Funke group: "The CDU, as the bigger sister, has the right of initiative. In the end, however, we decide together."
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)