Merkel to step down as party chair after election losses

News agency dpa cited unidentified party sources as saying Merkel told an ongoing CDU leadership meeting that she's prepared to step down as party leader but intends to remain chancellor.

She also faces pressure from her Social Democrat (SPD) junior coalition partners, who have also bled support in Hesse and are under pressure to rethink their alliance with Merkel.

Merkel's CDU won 27 per cent of the vote Sunday and the Social Democrats 19.8 per cent. "I won't seek any further political offices", she added. Typically, the leader of the party is also the chancellor, but it's not a hard and fast rule.

Known as the "mini-Merkel", 56-year-old Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer - former state premier of tiny Saarland - is a loyal follower of the chancellor's centrist line that has shaped CDU and German politics over the past two decades.

Merkel standing down from the party chair would allow a new CDU chairman or chairwoman to build a profile before the next national election.

But if a snap election were to be called before 2021, she said she would not contest it. That decision has led to lasting tensions in her conservative Union bloc, particularly with the CDU's Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union. "Secondly, this fourth term is my last as German chancellor - at the federal election in 2021, I will not stand again as chancellor candidate".

Short of an end to the coalition, internal frustration in the CDU could yet bubble up in a weak score for Merkel when she stands for re-election as party leader in December - or even a surprise victory for a challenger.

Germany election: Further blow for Merkel in Hesse
It represented the worst election result since 1950, and a loss of its absolute majority for only the second time since 1962. The pro-business Free Democrats were seen winning above 7% and the Left Party around 6.5%.

Merkel said she took took responsibility for CDU's poor results in state elections since a year ago.

A trained lawyer and former member of the European Parliament, Mr Merz served in the German parliament from 1994 to 2009, and now holds numerous non-executive company board positions, including chairman of the German arm of the United States hedge fund BlackRock.

Merkel, trained scientist raised behind the Iron Curtain, long held the support of German voters as a guarantor of stability and prosperity, notably during the global financial crisis and euro zone turmoil.

The surprise announcement that Merkel would leave her party's leadership but remain in the chancellorship did not satisfy her critics. The head of the Social Democrats, Andrea Nahles, has said that she sees no need to step down.

Her decision was announced after historically low results in two state elections, in Bavaria in mid-October and on Sunday in Hesse.

She is due to give a press conference at 1:00 pm (1200 GMT). And the far-right Alternative for Germany was on course to enter the last of Germany's 16 state parliaments with more than 12 per cent.

The Social Democrats also saw huge losses in the elections. The results were quite a disappointment for the CDU candidate and Ministers-President of Hesse, Volker Bouffier, a Merkel man who has stuck with her through thick and thin.

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