The leader of Germany’s main governing party – widely seen as Angela Merkel‘s anointed successor – has said she will step aside and not stand to become Chancellor.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer took over as head of the centre-right CDU party in December 2018 but admitted that her party had faced a “difficult year” with her in charge.
The decision came after a week of political turmoil in Germany that raised questions about her ability to command authority in Germany’s largest political party.
Local CDU politicians in the state of Thuringia had voted alongside the far-right AfD party to install a joint candidate as regional governor – defying Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer and causing a national political scandal.
Cooperation with the far-right is a major taboo in Germany, with other parties are expected to maintain “cordon sanitaire” around them.
While the row did not directly drag in Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, it may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in illustrating her weak grip on the party.
“I will not run for chancellor,” the 57-year-old, told a press conference in Berlin, adding that she had made her decision “with the intention of strengthening the CDU”.
“In my view, this has no impact on the stability of the grand coalition,” she said, suggesting that the federal coalition government between her party and the centre-left SPD would continue.
The CDU leader, who is also known in Germany as “AKK”, took over the top party post while Ms Merkel remained Germany’s chancellor. She made the surprise announcement after a meeting of members.
Ms Merkel herself told reporters in Berlin: “I acknowledged this decision today with the greatest amount of respect, but I want to say that I regret it.
“I can well imagine that this was not an easy decision for Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, and I thank her that she’s prepared to accompany the process for choosing a candidate for the chancellorship as party chairwoman.”
AKK was effectively handpicked by Ms Merkel to safeguard her political legacy inside the CDU – and resist challengers from conservatives in the party who want to present a more right-wing economic or social prospectus.
Ms Mekrel has previously indicated that she will step down as chancellor at the next German federal elections, which are scheduled for next year at the latest.
The once dominant CDU’s poll ratings have in recent years suffered a double blow, with voters deserting it for the far-right AfD and others for the centre-left Green party.
But the party, which has governed Germany at the head of various coalitions since 2005, remains in first place in opinion polls.