Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a Merkel protege, elected leader of Germany's ruling party

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will succeed Angela Merkel as CDU leader.

Berlin (CNN)Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union party elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as its new leader on Friday.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, nicknamed AKK, is often portrayed as a "mini Merkel," following the Chancellor's leadership path, first as Saarland's regional premier, then party secretary, appointed by Merkel.
She likely will lead the CDU into the 2021 federal elections and could become the country's next Chancellor.
    Kramp-Karrenbauer is said to have a similar style to Merkel: soft-spoken but determined and pragmatic, with a record of finding political solutions.
    Rather than outlining her own party vision during her campaign, AKK went on a "listening tour" across 16 German states, talking to voters and party members. The tour included an overseas excursion to the US to visit White House officials and a BMW plant.
    That strategy may have won her support among CDU members who wanted the familiar stability of Merkel. But it could have alienated party voters who wanted something new and different.
    The 56-year-old general secretary of the CDU narrowly won the party contest over corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz with 51.75% of the vote.
    Kramp-Karrenbauer is said to have a similar style to Merkel.
    As Merkel's handpicked successor, Kramp-Karrenbauer is a likely ally for Merkel, unlike Merz, who was once sidelined by Merkel in the 2002 leadership contest and sits on the right wing of the party.
    In a pointed speech to delegates prior to the vote, Kramp-Karrenbauer was keen to distinguish herself as a leader who stands on her own.
    "I have read a lot about what I am and who I am: 'mini,' a copy, simply 'more of the same.' Dear delegates, I stand before you as I am and as life made me and I am proud of that," she said.
    "I learned what it is to lead -- and above all, learned that leadership is more about being strong on the inside than being loud on the outside," AKK added.
    In her victory speech, Kramp-Karrenbauer thanked everyone for their ''support and trust."

    'A future full of challenges'

    As the party prepared to elect a new leader earlier on Friday, Merkel defended her 18 years in charge of the CDU.
    Merkel, who announced her intention to step down as party leader but remain as Chancellor in October, gave a staunch defense of her tenure in an emotional speech that was met with a 10-minute standing ovation from delegates inside the auditorium in Hamburg.
    Speaking ahead of the leadership vote, she told the party's congress that the CDU must "look forward" but remain loyal to the values that have long been fundamental to its electoral success.
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts after her last speech as CDU leader.