* Merkel seeks CDU facelift ahead of 2013 elections
* More women and immigrants in party posts
* Conservatives want to appeal to urban voters
By Stephen Brown and Noah Barkin
HANOVER, Germany, Dec 5 Aygul Ozkan, the
daughter of a Turkish tailor, is the new face of Germany's
Her election to the leadership board of the Christian
Democratic Union (CDU) represents a facelift for a party that
has for decades been dominated by white, Christian,
predominantly male politicians.
Ozkan, 42, minister of social affairs in Lower Saxony state,
is a rising star in a party which, under Angela Merkel, is bent
on rejuvenating an image that is as stodgy as the meat, noodles
and potatoes served at its party congress in Hanover.
"Something is happening and it is wonderful. It is a sign of
normality," Ozkan told Reuters. She is one of four young
politicians with an immigrant background who were elected to the
26-seat CDU board this week.
Merkel, the 58-year-old German chancellor who will fight for
a third term in an election next September, is dragging a
reluctant CDU into the 21st century - and may overtake some of
her traditionally more progressive rivals on the way.
Her goal is to avoid the mistakes of conservative parties
outside of Germany which have lost power because they failed to
mobilise women and immigrants. U.S. Republican candidate Mitt
Romney's defeat to President Barack Obama last month was partly
blamed on his failure to attract such voters.
Merkel has steadily filled the German leadership at federal
and state level with women. Top-selling German daily Bild has
even joked about "Merkel's Christian Ladies' Union".
But Ozkan and other new members of the CDU leadership like
24-year-old Younes Ouaqasse - whose parents are Moroccan - are
Muslims who sometimes challenge the preconceptions of a party
that still starts its congresses with a solemn church service.
Ozkan stirred controversy by suggesting crucifixes should be
banned from schools. Ouaquasse takes the view that Muslim
immigrants should respect the Christian religion of the majority
of inhabitants of their adopted country.
Merkel is determined that diversity should come to the CDU
without imposing the quotas favoured by the centre-left Social
Democrats (SPD) or the feminist Greens, whose 50:50 gender quota
system means they must present two candidates for chancellor.
"Other parties have quotas, we've got cool women. The others
have immigrant quotas, we've got diversity as we showed today,"
Ozkan said at the CDU congress that ended on Wednesday.
The SPD was once a magnet for immigrant votes because of its
links to trade unions, who were often the first point of contact
with German politics for "guest workers" arriving from Turkey
and southern Europe.
The centre-left party has also been a strong supporter of
Turkey's bid to join the European Union, while Merkel, her CDU
and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union
(CSU), are against it.
But Ouaqasse said the conservative CDU was a more natural
choice for immigrants like himself "because its politics are
built on religious principles and as a Muslim I like that".
"Back in Morocco or Turkey, Muslims would never vote for a
party like the SPD," he told Reuters. "The SPD's values are not
human but (rather) ideological."
The CDU gleefully compares its diversity record - a woman
party chief returned with 98 percent of votes in Hanover, five
women ministers in her cabinet and 10 women replacing men on the
CDU board - with the SPD, dominated by a "troika" of middle-aged
German men for the past couple of years.
Her SPD challenger Peer Steinbrueck has even said that he
does not appeal to women voters because he is "too cerebral and
not emotional enough".
The SPD is 10 points behind Merkel's conservatives in most
opinion polls ahead of the federal elections.
Merkel's choice of new faces and a softer tone are not only
aimed at undercutting the SPD, but also repairing the CDU's own
failings in Germany's big cities. Only two of the country's top
20 cities remain in its hands after it lost Stuttgart to the
Greens in October.
But to give itself more urban appeal, some in the party
believe the CDU must also lure another minority - gays and
lesbians. At the party congress, however, that appeared to be a
step too far for most delegates.
Stefan Kaufmann, a member of the Bundestag (lower house) and
one of few openly gay CDU politicians, said "it would be a good
signal to the cities" if the CDU backed proposals to give
same-sex couples the same tax perks as heterosexual couples.
"In many ways we are on a good path to modernisation, but we
need to adapt some of our values and convictions," he said.
The most heated debate of a largely self-congratulatory
congress saw this proposal thrown out.
Walter Arnold, from the conservative enclave of Fulda near
Frankfurt, told the congress what many rank-and-file CDU members
still believe: "Families, above all families with children, are
one of our basic values and we have to stand by them."