BERLIN (Reuters) - Senior party allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel are increasingly indicating that they expect her to run for a fourth term in office in 2017 even though her popularity has dipped under the impact of the migrant crisis.
Merkel, 62, who has been chancellor since 2005, has repeatedly declined to comment on whether she will run in 2017, saying only that she will make her intentions clear in due course. In September she said she was still motivated.
But a senior ally of Merkel's said he did not see any other realistic alternative for the post of chairwoman of the Christian Democrats (CDU) - a role which is likely to be filled by the party's top candidate for chancellor.
"As far as I know, there's no one else who is preparing to run for this office," said Peter Tauber, secretary general of the CDU, when asked whether he expected candidates other than Merkel to run for party chair at its conference in December.
In an interview with Tagesspiegel newspaper on Sunday, Tauber pointed to Merkel's view that one person should fill the roles of both party chair and chancellor.
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a CDU member who is often rumoured to be a possible successor to Merkel, told a gathering of senior military leaders on Monday that she hoped to continue serving in her current role beyond the election.
CDU member Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is premier of the state of Saarland, said of the vote for party chair: "There will be one female candidate," adding the party would elect that candidate with a big majority.
Though Merkel is seen as one of the most successful chancellors of post-unification Germany, her popularity has declined since her decision last year to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants into the country.
But an Infratest dimap poll published on Oct. 6 showed that 54 percent of Germans were satisfied with her work, up 9 points compared with September.
Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Andrea Shalal; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Richard Balmforth