German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that she will not seek re-election in 2021, following significant losses in the Hesse regional elections on Sunday. Translated video of her announcement is available through Reuters.
She has faced steady decline in support for both of the parties in the governing coalition in recent years, as both internal and external tensions have increased the influence of nationalist and socialist parties.
The key movements in the Hessischer Landtag were the loss of 7 seats by Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (center-right) and the loss of 8 seats by their coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (center-left); and the gain of 19 seats by the nationalist Alternative for Germany party and 16 seats by the socialist Green party.
Merkel has been facing pressure in recent months from the nationalists, most notably in the early July conflict with her Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. The Hesse elections were widely believed to be a referendum on her attempts at resolving the internal conflicts of Germany that had resulted in events like the Chemnitz riots.
Merkel, who has held office since 2005, is not only the Chancellor but also the head of the CDU. The leadership of that party will be up for election in December. This will be the next great test of Merkel’s current influence; if she is able to select a successor it will facilitate a smooth transition. If, on the other hand, one of the pro-nationalist factions gains the leadership of the CDU, there will be significant internal pressure upon the veteran politician to change her policy decisions or step down.
Even should she successfully install a chosen successor at the CDU, there is no guarantee that Merkel will remain Chancellor through 2021. With the weakened condition of both the CDU and the SDP, it is plausible that the SDP may pull out of the coalition in an effort to rebrand itself. In that event, the CDU would need to find other partners to reach 51% of the Bundestag seats or call for a new election, with Merkel not standing for the Chancellorship.