Merkel to step down as party chair after election losses

She said she wanted to complete her fourth stint as chancellor but stressed that it would be "her last term", a party source told AFP.

Her announcement follows a poor result in the Hesse state election on Sunday, where both the CDU and its partners in national government, the Social Democrats, lost ground.

A loss for Bouffier would make life more hard for Merkel, who has indicated that she plans to seek another two-year term as CDU leader at a congress in December.

Merkel has led her conservative Christian Democratic Union since 2000 and Germany since 2005. Party sources said Merkel wants to remain chancellor until 2021, when the next federal election is due.

For now the CDU will nearly certainly support her decision as it focuses on the leadership contest and the Social Democrats, while they've been punished for joining Merkel's coalition, have little incentive to trigger an election. She is not expected to run for a fifth term as chancellor in 2021.

In Hesse, support for the CDU is running at 28 percent, a survey by pollster Forschungsgruppe Wahlen for broadcaster ZDF showed on Thursday. She said Monday that it's "time to start a new chapter".

Just two weeks earlier, Merkel's conservative CSU sister party suffered a similar drubbing in Bavaria.

The CDU vote fell 11.3 per cent compared to the last elections in 2013.

Referring to the quibbling strangling her coalition, Merkel noted that "the picture that the government is sending out is unacceptable".

She later told press that she was stepping down as party leader was the first step towards a leadership transition.

The Social Democrats' weak performance in regional elections this year in Hesse and Bavaria has added pressure on their national leadership to force Merkel into more concessions. The loss for the Merkel confidant marked a rare moment when the CDU's elected officials have defied the Chancellor's will.

Merkel's decision has made it even more likely that the SPD will withdraw from the coalition, which would shift the burden of responsibility for the government's failure onto the Social Democrats' shoulders.

Andrea Nahles, leader of the Social Democrats, on Sunday demanded a "clear, binding timetable" for implementing government projects before the coalition faces an already-agreed midterm review next fall.

Two prominent candidates immediately threw their hats in the ring: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, the party's general secretary, who is viewed as a Merkel ally and largely backs her centrist approach; and Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, an ambitious conservative who has talked tough on migration and has criticized Merkel.

Merkel has long held the support of Germans as a guarantor of stability and prosperity, having steered Germany through financial crises and keeping Europe's biggest economy humming with unemployment striking post-reunification record lows month after month.

Being able to keep Bouffier, a deputy CDU leader, as governor would stabilize Merkel in the short term, he said.

  • Leroy Wright