Tue, Oct 30, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Merkel to step down as party head

AFP, BERLIN and FRANKFURT, Germany

Then-German Christian Democratic Union general secretary Angela Merkel, center, receives applause by her predecessor Wolfgang Schaeuble, left, and parliamentary floor leader Friedrich Merz after being elected as the new party leader at a convention in Essen on April 10, 2000.

Photo: Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not stand again as leader of her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a party source said yesterday, making way after 18 years for a successor following a series of regional vote defeats.

“She will not stand again for the chairmanship of her party,” said the source, a day after voters in the state of Hesse punished her party in a regional poll.

Merkel faced a bitter political reality after the parties in her fragile coalition on Sunday suffered heavy losses in the key state election and a junior partner made threats to quit.

The blow for the CDU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Hesse was the latest state poll marred by the image of the right-left “grand coalition” government limping from crisis to crisis at a federal level.

“The situation for Merkel is grave,” the Sueddeutsche Zeitung said late on Sunday. “Now the question is whether we’ll soon have to write ‘in liquidation’ after her coalition.”

Preliminary final results showed both of the formerly dominant parties being hit with losses of about 11 percentage points in Hesse, western Germany, compared with the last election in 2013, although the CDU still claimed first place with 27 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, the SPD tumbled to a tie for second place with the up-and-coming ecologist Greens, each at 19.8 percent.

Showing political gains was the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which took 13.1 percent of the vote to enter the Hesse state legislature for the first time.

That result would allow the existing state coalition of CDU and Greens to continue, albeit with a thinner majority.

Merkel’s first order of business as she was to speak at 1pm in Berlin was to be bucking up the SDP, which had threatened to leave the federal coalition that many blame for years of disappointing electoral setbacks.

That would almost certainly trigger fresh elections and perhaps the end of Merkel’s political career.

“The state of the government is unacceptable,” SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles said on Sunday, adding that the CDU must produce a “clear, binding roadmap for politics in the interest of the citizens.”

She was seeking to strike a sober contrast to the highly personal internal quarrels of the conservative camp over the past few months.

The ruling parties are like “two people drowning while chained to each other,” political scientist Hans Vorlaender of the University of Dresden told public broadcaster ARD.

The government almost collapsed twice over the summer, notably when Merkel restrained German Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer’s attempts to toughen up migrant policy.

Armed with her checklist, by September next year, the SPD “will be able to see whether this government is still the right place for us,” Nahles said in an implicit threat to the chancellor.

After federal elections in September last year that were defined by sharp drops for both the center-right and left, and the appearance of the far right in the German federal parliament for the first time, the SPD agreed only reluctantly to back Merkel yet again.

Increasing numbers of SPD members are calling on the party to quit government immediately and lick its wounds in opposition, as it is presently polling below AfD nationwide, at 15 percent to AfD’s 16 percent.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of CDU members were calling Merkel’s leadership into question.

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