By Grace Dobush
October 29, 2018

After her Christian Democrats took a beating in a major state election this weekend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she won’t run for re-election as party chair. Observers see Merkel decision as a further sign of her dwindling political power. She is not expected to run for a fifth term as chancellor in 2021.

In the state of Hesse’s election Sunday, the CDU saw a 11-point drop in support from the last election in 2013, as did its coalition partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party. This rout comes just two weeks after Bavaria’s state election, which was also a disappointing result for the conservative Christian Social Union, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party.

Merkel has been chancellor of Germany since winning the 2005 parliamentary election, but she’s been the leader of the center-right CDU party since 2000. The CDU is due to elect a new party chair at the conference in December. The chancellor of Germany is usually—but not always—the leader of his or her party. In the past, Merkel has always said that the position of chancellor and the head of the party should be one person.

Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, stepped down as party leader in February 2004 but remained chancellor until November 2005. The Guardian points out standing down as party chair would allow a new leader to build a profile ahead of Germany’s next national election in 2021. Merkel’s favored successor is the CDU’s secretary general, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

In the first year of her fourth term leading Germany, Merkel has faced repeated setbacks. Forming a coalition—aligning with the SPD to account for more than half the seats in the elected Bundestag—took four months. Since that coalition was finally forged, there’s been endless infighting with the CSU over immigration policies.

Last month, one of her major allies, Volker Kauder, lost his re-election as parliamentary leader of the CDU. “This woman is so gifted as a politician that she can probably cling to power for a while longer,” Andreas Kluth writes at Handelsblatt. “But she is also perceptive enough to know that her exit is nigh. My hunch is that she will now try to prepare an orderly departure sometime in 2019.”

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