German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN (AP) — Prominent members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party are calling for an end to internal sniping after the latest in a string of poor election performances.

Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union finished third in an election Sunday in Thuringia, a state it once dominated. That result prompted criticism of both the chancellor and her successor as party leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Leading conservative and one-time Merkel rival Friedrich Merz assailed Merkel for her "inertia and lack of leadership." Merz, 63, narrowly lost a bid for the party leadership to Merkel ally Kramp-Karrenbauer last year and is widely believed still to have ambitions to run for chancellor.

Merz's intervention itself drew sharp criticism. By Thursday, a call criticizing "self-destructive" behavior by "individuals" and assailing attacks that were "politically mindless as well as excessive in tone and style" had gathered support from 28 party lawmakers.

Jens Spahn, the ambitious health minister and himself a candidate in the last party leadership race, criticized the party for arguing again about its leadership only a year later. He defended the record of Merkel's government, an uneasy coalition with the center-left Social Democrats.

And Daniel Guenther, the governor of Schleswig-Holstein state, told the RND newspaper group that "I think a few old men who perhaps haven't achieved what they wanted to in their lives want to take the opportunity to settle old scores."

Merkel, 65, chose to step down as party leader last year and said she won't seek a fifth term as chancellor in the next general election, which is due in 2021. It isn't yet clear who will run to succeed her.

At present, the party is expected to choose its next chancellor candidate in 2020. Kramp-Karrenbauer this week challenged anyone who thinks things should be done differently to come forward at a regular party congress in late November.

Merkel herself has chosen a tried-and-tested response that has infuriated and frustrated critics in equal measure over the years: silence.

In this Friday, Dec. 7, 2018 file photo, Friedrich Merz, candidate for the party's chairmanship, delivers his speech during the party convention of the Christian Democratic Party CDU in Hamburg, Germany. Merz a one-time rival of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has assailed her leadership style, adding to tensions in her center-right party after a dismal state election performance in Thuringia on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. Friedrich Merz ran last year to succeed Merkel as leader of her Christian Democratic Union but was narrowly defeated by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2018 file photo, newly elected CDU chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, left, and Friedrich Merz, right, wave during the party convention of the Christian Democratic Party CDU in Hamburg, Germany. Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Merz a one-time rival of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has assailed her leadership style, adding to tensions in her center-right party after a dismal state election performance in Thuringia on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. Friedrich Merz ran last year to succeed Merkel as leader of her Christian Democratic Union but was narrowly defeated by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)