Merkel will not seek re-election as CDU party leader

In power as chancellor for 13 years, Merkel has become greatly weakened since last year's general election, when voters handed her an inconclusive result that forced her to form an uneasy coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats.

Merkel has loomed large on the European stage since 2005, helping guide the EU through the euro zone crisis and opening Germany's doors to migrants fleeing war in the Middle East in 2015 - a move that still divides the bloc and Germany.

According to an exit poll in Hesse state by public broadcaster ARD, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) shed around 10 points for a 28-per cent score, compared with 38.3 per cent in 2013.

There were gains for the Greens, who were roughly level with Social Democrats at almost 20 per cent - compared with 11.1 per cent five years ago.

A national election is not mandated until 2021, but the disappointing results for the coalition partners and a resignation as party leader by Merkel would likely hasten them.

The country's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Sunday secured about 12% of the vote and will enter the region's assembly for the first time.

However, she said that she would like to remain chancellor, local media report.

However, the SPD's historic losses could mean yet more pain for the chancellor's already troubled government coalition in Berlin. Her decision to step down as chairwoman comes after her party suffered its second regional election setback in as many weeks.

The party attracts voters who favour welcoming refugees, worry about climate change or are fed up with the indulging of auto companies during a years-long scandal over harmful emissions from diesel vehicles.

And Mr. Bouffier, noting that his party fared better in the Hesse vote than it now does in polls nationally, seems keen to stay in power.

'The election results show that people expect renewal from the CDU, ' conservative lawmaker Matern von Marschall told the Stuttgarter newspaper.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU has scored 27% of the vote in the state election in Hesse, as the preliminary tally indicates.

CDU leaders will meet next Sunday to prepare for a summit in December where party members will vote for a new chairman. She announced that the SPD would press Merkel's governing coalition to accept "a clear, binding timetable" for the government's projects.

"I will not be seeking any political post after my term ends", she told a news conference in Berlin.

After leaders reluctantly agreed to a third right-left coalition earlier this year, the fourth Merkel government has staggered from one crisis to another, nearly collapsing twice over the summer in battles over relatively minor points.

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