Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has led the Christian Democratic Union for 18 years and the country for 13, announced on Monday that she would not seek re-election and would give up the leadership of her party.CreditCreditTobias Schwarz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Monday took her first concrete steps to move away from political life, saying she would give up leadership of her conservative party while vowing to finish out her term as chancellor until 2021.
Ms. Merkel made her announcement, in a meeting of conservative leaders, after two disastrous results in regional elections that saw her party and its allies slump to near-record lows. Many observers, including in her own party, doubted that she could hang on as a lame duck until 2021, and speculated that elections could come sooner.
After leading the Christian Democratic Union for 18 years and the country for 13, Ms. Merkel, 64, said her decision aimed to give her party the opportunity “to get ready for the time after me.”
She also said she would not seek any other political office.
Ms. Merkel’s fractious coalition government, which took six months to cobble together and nearly collapsed twice since then, has long lost its majority in opinion polls.
On Sunday, Ms. Merkel’s conservatives won just 27 percent of the vote in the central state of Hesse, down from 38 percent five years ago — their worst showing in the state since 1966. Two weeks earlier, her conservative allies in Bavaria suffered a similar blow.
But in defeat, the chancellor, who has seemed weak and on the defensive for months, showed the kind of quiet cunning that was once her hallmark by trying to dictate her own exit strategy.
“It was a classic Merkel move,” said Evelyn Roll, a journalist and the author of a Merkel biography. “She has not lost her ability to surprise.”
The conservatives will hold a two-day party conference starting on Dec. 6 in Hamburg, where they are due to elect a new executive board and leader. Ms. Merkel had repeatedly said that she would run again for the position, but she reversed that stand on Monday, telling board members that she would step down.
Ms. Merkel said she would seek to remain as chancellor until 2021, when the current legislative terms end, but many analysts and politicians, even in her own party, question whether she will stay in power that long. Her setbacks have emboldened critics in her party, and her governing partners, the Social Democrats, whose recent losses were even worse than those of the conservatives, might pull out of the coalition. That could lead to early elections.
Previously, only relatively unknown conservatives had announced their candidacy for the party leadership. But with Ms. Merkel out of the running, the names of possible successors are being floated.
Among those seen as strong contenders are Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the party’s secretary general, who was tapped this year to help rejuvenate the conservatives and pave the way for a post-Merkel era; Jens Spahn, Ms. Merkel’s health minister and one of her strongest critics from the right; and Armin Laschet, governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, since June 2017.
Friedrich Merz, a former leader of the conservative group in Parliament who quit the party but remained a staunch critic of the chancellor, indicated on Monday that he would run for the position, German news outlets reported.