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Kramp-Karrenbauer’s ratings plummeted last year after several public gaffes, including poking fun at transgender people in a carnival speech.
The woman who had been expected to become Germany’s next chancellor said Monday she would not run for the top job, succumbing to a scandal involving the far-right and blowing wide open the race to succeed Angela Merkel.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is a protegee of the chancellor and leader of their conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) but has faced growing doubts over her suitability to replace Merkel, who has led Germany for 15 years but plans to stand down at the federal election due in autumn 2021.
Last week, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s inability to impose discipline on the CDU in the eastern state of Thuringia dealt a further blow to her credibility, eroded by a series of blunders.
The regional CDU branch defied her by backing a local leader helped into office by the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), shattering a postwar consensus among established parties on shunning the far-right.
“I will not run for chancellor,” Kramp-Karrenbauer, 57, told a news conference in Berlin, adding 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, referring to the national coalition between Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD).
Merkel did not seek re-election to the party chair in 2018, allowing Kramp-Karrenbauer to take the party helm to boost her profile before running for the chancellery.
She said she would remain party chair until another chancellor candidate has been found and will stay on as defense minister.
But erstwhile rivals for the party leadership - Friedrich Merz and Jens Spahn - have been circling, while Armin Laschet, premier of Germany’s largest state and a Merkel ally, did not rule out running.
Alexander Gauland, honorary chairman of the far-right AfD, said the CDU’s efforts under Kramp-Karrenbauer to ostracize his party had failed.