Merkel formally initiates her political withdrawal

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a press conference at the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Berlin, capital of Germany, on Oct. 29, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

Angela Merkel, the veteran German Chancellor and crisis manager, on Monday announced her withdrawal from political career after the chancellorship term ends.

The 64-year-old Merkel told a press conference at the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that she will remain as chancellor for the remainder of the legislature, which started this March and will end in 2021.

In addition, she announced that she will not run again for CDU leadership at the party's next federal conference in Hamburg in December. In general, a CDU chancellor is at the same time leader of the party in a bid to govern easily, and Merkel also said before the two positions should belong in one hand.

"It's time to open a new chapter!" said Merkel at the press conference. She added that she will not take any other political positions after the chancellorship term ends, dispelling some reports that she will serve in Brussels.

Merkel has informed her decision to Horst Seehofer, leader of Christian Social Union (CSU) and Andrea Nahles, chairwoman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), the two parties in the current German federal coalition government.

Merkel is CDU chairwoman since April 2000 and German Chancellor since November 2005. On March 14 this year she was sworn in for the fourth term as Chancellor in German federal parliament. She successfully led the country to withstand the 2007/2008 international financial crisis, and led the EU out of a Eurozone debt crisis, winning worldwide prestige of her leadership.

Her leadership, however, began to wither since the 2015 European refugee crisis, when she welcomed over one million refugees to enter Germany, triggering the rise of right-populist politics and the fragmentation of the country's party politics.

Merkel's Christian Democrats suffered a significant drop in 2017 September federal elections, but she could not help win back voters lost as she promised. Instead, the Merkel-led coalition government was stuck into quarrels over migration policy, an issue called as Merkel's Achilles Heel.

Her announcement of initiating political withdrawal came after the state election in Hesse on Sunday, in which the CDU's votes decreased by more than 10 percent compared to the last election five years ago, while the environmentalist Green Party became the greatest winner and the right-populist Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) has successfully crossed the 5-percent threshold and entered all state parliaments in Germany.

The setback in Hesse followed the similar one earlier this month that CSU, CDU's Bavaria-only ally, lost absolute majority in the state election.

"The image given by the government is unacceptable...As chancellor and the chairwoman of the CDU, I carry the responsibility both for the successes and for the failures," Merkel told the press conference, describing the results in Hesse as bitter and disappointing.

"I am convinced that we have to stop," said Merkel, referring to the state elections in Hesse. "And I wish that we take yesterday's election day as a break, that we put everything to the test, which we have said and done since the election of the Bundestag until today."

Merkel also confirmed the candidacy for the new CDU party leadership, including the party's secretary-general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and German Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn.

"I want my party gets the freedom to prepare well for the future," said Merkel.

Merkel's renunciation as CDU leader put the coalition government at risk. A Merkel loyalist and successor like Kramp-Karrenbauer will probably last longer, while a CDU leader like Spahn, a Merkel critic, will bring more uncertainties.

SPD chairwoman Andrea Nahles said she saw no direct effects on the coalition government. She said Merkel has done an "extraordinary" job at the helm of the CDU, steering it out of deep crises.

Nahles said Merkel not only withstood criticism but also reorganized the content of the CDU and established a new style of leadership.

The CSU chairman Seehofer regretted the Merkel's renunciation as CDU chairwoman.

"It's a pity," Seehofer was quoted by DPA, "We have had some discussions, but it has always been a trusting, mutually respectful cooperation...And in that respect, I think it's a shame that this caesura should take place."

The Greens' leader Annalena Baerbock praised that Merkel has opened the party for a modern image of society. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) leader Christian Lindner, however, said at a press conference on Monday that Merkel gave up the wrong office, but the chancellorship.

AfD leader Joerg Meuthen said that Merkel's decision to give up the CDU chairmanship was "good news," saying that he expected her to "give up her chancellorship soon."

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