If Merkel wants to remain a liberal hero, she must step down now

Merkel must be worried. Her conservative CDU party sustained a bitter defeat in state elections last weekend.

CDU's losses in brief:

  • In Baden-Württemberg, the conservatives performed their worst since 1952, with just 27 percent of the votes.
  • In neighbouring Rheinland-Palatinate, the CDU hit a historic low of 31.8 percent
  • On the other side of the country in Saxony Anhalt, Merkel's party managed to cling on to its majority but with 29.8 percent of the vote has to worry about how to build a workable coalition

The most dramatic gains were seen for the right-wing populist upstarts, the Alternative for Germany party (AfD). They managed to shake up non-voters fuming over the CDU's open-door refugee policy. From a standing start the populists managed to get a quarter of the votes in Saxony Anhalt, becoming the CDU's main opposition should they choose not to form a coalition (something which is unlikely considering their diverging views on migration).

The spectacular results for the anti-immigration party will have Angela Merkel on edge. After all, it raises the threat of AfD slashing a chunk out of the CDU's majority in 2017's national elections. The chancellor would have to step down , the tide of public opinion having eroded her party's support.

So what way now for the Teflon Chancellor? The safest bet for her legacy would be to stand down in June. She'll be the hero of liberals for providing shelter for millions of asylum seekers driven from their homes by a violent death cult and an oppressive regime, and will avoid being branded a hypocrite for slamming the gates closed to fix her political problems.

Her successor would keep up the help to those refugees already approved to live in Germany, shut the borders to save face with its CSU allies and AfD protest voters, and regain support ahead of next year's elections.

Her biggest win from stepping down would be the chance to run for secretary-general of the United Nations. Ban Ki-moon's term ends this year and the election for his replacement will happen in September. There are already high-profile official candidates, including Irina Bokova (UNESCO's director-general) and Srgjan Kerim (former president of the UN General Assembly), but Merkel would be a shoo-in.

To put it plainly, stepping down would be the best thing for both Merkel's party and her own reputation.