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Hamburg mayor and Merkel ally reportedly set to step down

Angela Merkel's government looks set to lose another powerful leader on Sunday as media reports say Ole von Beust will likely resign from his post as the mayor of Hamburg.

Ole von Beust.

Beust has reportedly lost his desire to govern

The popular 55-year-old mayor of Germany's second largest city, a state in its own right, is a state premier in all but title. He would be the latest in a long line of leading members of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU) to throw in the towel.

Von Beust is reportedly suffering from fatigue in his mayoral duties, and is said to have lost his appetite for politics altogether.

A charismatic speaker, often touted as Merkel's potential understudy, Beust helped the CDU reach new urban voter demographics that the traditionalist party had often ignored.

The openly gay, centrist conservative conquered the traditionally left-leaning port city of Hamburg for the Christian Democrats (CDU) in 2001, after the party had spent 44 years in opposition. He has retained the post ever since, and even ruled with an absolute majority - a tremendously rare occurrence under Germany's electoral system – between 2004 and 2008.

Beust currently rules Hamburg in coalition with the Green party - the highest-profile alliance in the history of two parties considered at opposing ends of the political spectrum - and the city has been running relatively smoothly despite the right-left divide.

One area of legislation where the parties have struggled is an adaptation to the city's schooling system. Hamburg's electorate goes to the polls on Sunday in a referendum over the proposal - and German media reports suggest Beust will resign before the votes are counted, in a move designed to distance his departure from the schools issue.

Thinning ranks

Angela Merkel.

Merkel cuts an ever-lonelier leadership figure in the CDU

Merkel's popularity has sunk to its lowest level since she was elected chancellor in 2005, and an exodus of senior CDU politicians has hardly helped steady the ship as she walks the tightrope of trying to cement Germany's economic recovery while simultaneously cutting national public spending.

Should he resign, Beust would be the sixth Christian Democrat state premier to leave his post in the last 10 months. Although Christian Wulff quit his job in Lower Saxony to be effectively promoted to the role of German president, he was replacing perhaps the highest profile CDU-affiliated deserter of all, former President Horst Koehler.

The CDU remains the dominant party in German politics, despite its waning popularity. Of Germany's 16 states, 10 are ruled by premiers from the CDU or its Bavarian sister party the CSU. Only one of the ten, Peter Mueller of Saarland, would have long experience at the helm of a regional government.

It seems only two CDU/CSU figures are to remain in government who are widely considered as potential chancellors, both of them hailing from Merkel's cabinet: Neither Germany's Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Ursula von der Leyen nor Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg have had executive experience at the local level running a German state or city-state.

Author: Mark Hallam (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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