Merkel facing calls to step down as CDU party leader

Merkel Faces Test of Her Authority in German Regional Vote

Stepping down as CDU chairwoman would further undermine Merkel's authority, which has already been dented this year by two regional election setbacks and a close ally losing his role as leader of her conservatives' parliamentary group.

Germany's central region of Hesse was voting Sunday in a state election marked by discontent with infighting in the national government - and its results could help determine whether Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration has a long-term future.

Monday's developments came after the CDU bled support in a vote in the western state of Hesse.

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

Mrs Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union was defending its 19-year hold on Hesse, previously a stronghold of the centre-left Social Democrats, the chancellor's federal coalition partners in Berlin.

Following the close election results, the SPD's leader, Andrea Nahles, has announced a mid-term review of the current coalition government next year, taking the declining voting numbers as a sign that the German electorate is growing exhausted of the coalition's constant in-fighting and lack of progress on bringing legislative change to Germany.

Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, stepped down as leader of his center-left Social Democrats in 2004 as his government struggled, but remained chancellor.

The result suggests the CDU and Greens could continue their ruling coalition in Hesse but is likely to increase tensions in Merkel's ruling "grand coalition" in Berlin.

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Mrs Merkel's conservative CDU party now rules along with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The debacle followed a battering in a state election in Bavaria two weeks ago for the CSU and the Social Democrats.

That's a major concession for Merkel, who for years has insisted that the chancellor should also be party leader.

The CDU has governed Hesse for almost 20 years, and the party campaigned on an enviable record in the state of ultra-low unemployment, high wages and minimal crime.

The mass arrivals are credited with fuelling the rise of the far-right, but Merkel has resisted calls to steer the CDU further rightward in response. But the CDU and ecologist Greens may lack sufficient support to renew their ruling alliance in the state. But current polls show the CDU not even winning a quarter of the national vote.

Several conservative party sources said that Friedrich Merz, a former parliamentary leader of Merkel's conservative alliance, was ready to put himself forward for the CDU chairmanship at the party's congress in December.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said on Sunday it would be "a mistake" for Merkel to cling to power.

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