Posted on: The Guardian | October 29th, 2018

German chancellor’s move follows poor results for CDU and SPD in regional elections

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has told senior figures in the Christian Democrats (CDU) she will not seek re-election as party chairwoman at a conference in early December.

Merkel has been the CDU chairwoman since 2000 and giving up the role will kickstart a race within the party to succeed her as its candidate for chancellor in elections in 2021.

According to German news agency dpa, Merkel has indicated she will carry on as chancellor for now. Traditionally, the person who holds position of party chair of the government’s largest party also takes position of chancellor, but this is not a binding rule.

The developments on Monday came after the CDU haemorrhaged support in a vote in the western state of Hesse. Preliminary final results from Sunday’s election, seen as decisive for the future of Germany’s increasingly wobbly coalition, showed the CDU slumping to 27%, the party’s worst showing in the state since 1966 and a drop of 11 percentage points since Hesse last went to the polls in 2013.

Merkel’s coalition partner in Berlin, the Social Democrats (SPD), tanked to 19.8% in a dead heat with the resurgent Green party for second place. The result, the SPD’s worst since 1946, will pile pressure on the party leader, Andrea Nahles.

In the past, Merkel has always said that the position of chancellor and the head of the party should be held by one person.

Merkel, who is thought to be preparing a slow withdrawal from politics, had previously indicated she would stand for the position, potentially for the last time. But in the face of considerable losses in Hesse, it is thought the CDU leadership may have changed her mind.

Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schröder made the same move in February 2004, giving up the position of chairman but remaining chancellor until November 2005. At the time, Merkel, who was then leader of the opposition, spoke of a “loss of authority all along the line,” and “ the beginning of the end” of Schröder.

Standing down as party leader will allow a new CDU chair to build a profile before the next national election, due in 2021. Whoever gets elected would be expected to stand as the CDU candidate for chancellor.

Merkel’s favoured successor is the CDU party secretary general, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. On Monday German media reported that the health minister Jens Spahn and Friedrich Merz, a former parliamentary leader of the CDU/CSU alliance, had joined the race to succeed Merkel.

The euro fell to session lows on the news. Merkel’s weakness at home may limit her capacity to lead in the EU at a time when the bloc is dealing with Brexit, a budget crisis in Italy and the prospect of populist parties making gains at European parliament elections next May.

The trouncing for the German coalition parties on Sunday comes shortly after a disastrous result in Bavaria widely seen as a protest against the failings of the Berlin government. The Hesse result will be seen as further evidence of the shrinking of the mainstream political landscape across Germany and Europe more widely.

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