BERLIN • German politicians and media questioned how long Dr Angela Merkel could carry on as chancellor yesterday after her conservatives ditched a longstanding ally as head of the parliamentary party, defying her wishes and dealing a blow to her waning authority.
The upset, before an Oct 14 election in Bavaria in which her Christian Social Union (CSU) conservative allies are set to face heavy losses, follows the third crisis in as many months for her loveless coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).
"Can Merkel still be chancellor?" splashed top-selling Bild with a photo of the grim 64-year-old.
SPD lawmaker Thomas Oppermann tweeted it was an "uprising against Merkel" and Free Democrat Alexander Graf Lambsdorff said it was "the beginning of the end of the grand coalition".
In an unexpected vote that underscored growing discontent among conservative lawmakers after 13 years of Dr Merkel as German chancellor, Mr Volker Kauder lost out to Mr Ralph Brinkhaus in a secret ballot for the party post.
However, many commentators point out that Dr Merkel's continued weakness will result in little change in terms of policy.
Lawmakers had gone against the wishes of Dr Merkel and CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who had both called on them to re-elect Mr Kauder, a trusty lieutenant who over 13 years helped secure the support of parliamentarians in the euro and migrant crises.
Many conservatives are still angry over Dr Merkel's decision three years ago to let in more than a million migrants.
"The vote shows a desire for renewal," said Mr Daniel Guenther, conservative premier of the state of Schleswig-Holstein.
"There was clearly a certain discontent over national politics," he told broadcaster NDR.
He added that Mr Brinkhaus wanted to give more weight to lawmakers' views in policy decisions.
Mr Brinkhaus is not widely viewed as a rebel who wants to oust Dr Merkel. Although he is slightly to the right of Dr Merkel and more hawkish on financial policy, he has so far been at pains to stress that he is on her side.
"I want to support her," he told public broadcaster ZDF late on Tuesday. He has also dismissed the idea of Dr Merkel calling a vote of confidence in Parliament as "nonsense".
Dr Merkel said she would not "sugar-coat" the result and that defeats were part of democracy.
On Monday, she apologised for not taking into account the public mood over the coalition's handling of a scandal over the head of Germany's domestic security service.
Economist Holger Schmieding said the coalition parties would not gain from bringing down Dr Merkel and triggering early elections, as the biggest winners would be the far-right Alternative for Germany and the Greens.
"Merkel is unlikely to throw in the towel soon," he said, adding that a weakened coalition "is unlikely to drive any dramatic change of policies on the national, European or international level".