End of an era: Merkel to retire in 2021

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Angela Merkel said Monday (Oct 29) she would step down as German chancellor at the end of her term in 2021 after a series of political crises and regional vote debacles rocked her fragile coalition.

His CDU colleague Christian von Steffen was more blunt: 'We need a meaningful programme with a clear path and new faces'.

She later told press that she was stepping down as party leader was the first step towards a leadership transition.

"Today it is time to begin a new chapter", she told reporters at her party headquarters.

This position has allowed the so-called grand coalition which presently rules Germany, an alliance between the main centre-right CDU and main centre-left SPD, from parties which should, in theory, be opposed on government but are united in keeping other voices out of power.

Even so, Merkel's term as chancellor runs until 2021 and Merkel has said she intends to serve it out.

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Often hailed as the world's most powerful woman and Europe's de facto leader, a weakened Merkel has faced growing calls to spell out her succession plans after 13 years in power.

She has been chair since 2000, and Germany's leader since 2005.

On Sunday, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) received 28 percent of the votes. Merkel said that she took "full responsibility" for the outcome of the election.

The Social Democrats, who were badly beaten in last year's national election, only reluctantly entered Merkel's fourth-term national government in March.

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 said she has been mulling her decision for months. The Social Democrats, or SPD, had its worst loss since 1946.

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Potential successors include Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, General Secretary of the CDU; Jens Spahn, Health Minister; Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of North-Rhine-Westphalia; Julia Klöckner, Agriculture Minister; Daniel Günther, Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein and Friedrich Merz, former Merkel rival, now inactive.

In Bavarian elections on October 15, Merkel's coalition partner the CSU lost its majority in the regional parliament for the first time since 1957.

"The state of the government is unacceptable", SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles said on Sunday, demanding from the CDU a "clear, binding roadmap for politics in the interest of the citizens". Such an outcome would increase pressure from the SPD's rank-and-file for the party to pull out of the coalition with Merkel in Berlin.

Friedrich Merz, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, also known as "AKK" or "mini-Merkel", Jens Spahn and Armin Laschet were some of the names mentioned as possible successors to lead the CDU.

During that momentous upheaval, Merkel, who holds a doctorate in quantum chemistry and was working in a lab, joined a pro-democracy group that would merge with the Christian Democrats of chancellor Helmut Kohl. That decision has led to lasting tensions in her conservative Union bloc, particularly with the CDU's Bavaria-only sister party, the CSU, and helped the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party gain support.

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