Germany's Angela Merkel Says She Won't Seek Re-Election, Will Leave Party Role

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That marked a huge drop from the 38.3 percent the CDU won at the last Hesse election, in 2013.

The other big victor was the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered the Hesse regional assembly for the first time with 12.8 percent of the vote, the ZDF projection showed.

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

Speculation has been widespread before the vote that a disastrous result for either or both parties could further destabilize the national government, prompting calls for the Social Democrats to walk out and possibly endangering Merkel's own position.

Andrea Nahles, the Social Democrats' leader, said that "the state of the government is unacceptable". The potential candidates are likely to include Health Minister Jens Spahn; the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet; and Merkel's much-rumoured heir, the CDU's General Secretary, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

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In one of her most debated moves, Merkel allowed large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers into Germany in 2015, many of them fleeing the fighting in Syria, before gradually pivoting to a more restrictive approach.

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

Chancellor Angela Merkel's once-unassailable position in German politics endured yet another blow as support for her party dropped precipitously in a state that has always been a bellwether for the nation, projected results showed.

That decision has led to lasting tensions in her conservative Union bloc, particularly with Bavaria's CSU, and helped the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party gain support.

But only the Greens, who are in opposition nationally, benefited at the polls. The CDU is expected to try to forge a coalition with the Greens but may need others.

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The election has unusually high national political significance following months of infighting in Merkel's federal coalition. That has given extra significance to the election in Hessen, which is home to 6.2 million of Germany's 82 million people.

According to Deutsche Welle, as news of Merkel's move spread, Christian Lindner, who leads the center-right Free Democrats (FDP), said, "She's quitting the wrong office".

Merkel will now concentrate on smoothing over the differences in her government to keep it running until the end of the parliamentary term in 2021, which is far from guaranteed. Many are dismayed by what has happened since.

At the moment, it is still too early to tell whether she will be able to govern effectively as a lame-duck chancellor, or if it will strengthen her coalition, said Thorsten Faas, political science professor at Berlin's Free University.

If the party does relinquish control of the state government, that would be seen as a major blow to Merkel ahead of the CDU's annual conference, in December, when she will be seeking reelection as party chairwoman.

Angela Merkel won't seek re-election as CDU party leader - German media
Merkel's party managed an unimpressive win, narrowly salvaging a majority for its regional governing coalition with the Greens. Back in 2013, the CDU had to make a coalition with the Alliance 90/The Greens after the election resulted in no clear victor .

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