Angela Merkel yesterday announced she will quit as German chancellor when her mandate ends in 2021, as she sought to draw a line under a series of political crises that have rocked her fragile coalition.
Merkel, who has led Germany for 13 years, added that she would neither stand in the country’s next elections nor seek to renew her mandate as chancellor when her fourth term ends in 2021.
At least four candidates declared their interest to seek Merkel’s job after she made her stunning announcement.
But she said she would not name a successor. “I will accept any democratic decision taken by my party,” she said. Often hailed as the world’s most powerful woman and Europe’s de facto leader, Merkel said she hoped her planned departure would end bitter fighting in her coalition and allow it to focus on governing.
“Today, it is time to begin a new chapter,” she told reporters at her party headquarters.
Referring to the quibbling strangling her coalition, Merkel noted that “the picture that the government is sending out is unacceptable”.
Electoral drubbings like the latest on Sunday in the state of Hessen were “a watershed, but in them could lie a chance” for Germany’s mainstream political parties including her own to find a way forward, she said.
The 64-year-old will stagger her political exit by first giving up the leadership job of her Christian Democratic Union after 18 years, when the role comes up for reelection during a party congress in December.
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.
But her power has been on the wane since her 2015 decision to keep Germany’s borders open at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, ultimately allowing in more than one million asylum seekers.
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The mass arrivals left Germany deeply polarised and fuelled the rise of the far-right, essentially redrawing the country’s political landscape. Railing against the newcomers, the anti-immigrant AfD is now the biggest opposition party in the Bundestag, and after a strong showing in Hesse now has seats in all German state parliaments.
Anxious at stemming the haemorrhage of voters to the AfD, Merkel’s conservative Bavarian allies CSU had championed hardline immigration and openly attacked her, all of which backfired as they ended up alienating moderate voters.
The CSU’s strategy also sat uncomfortably with the third party in Merkel’s uneasy coalition, the Social Democrats, sending the government lurching from crisis to crisis. AfD leader Joerg Meuthen hailed Merkel’s planned departure as “good news”, as the party took credit for the earthquake in German politics.