Angela Merkel's handpicked successor says that she will not seek Germany's chancellorship, casting into uncertainty the future of the Christian Democratic Union, Germany's most dominant political party.
"With the aim of making the CDU stronger, I have today, after extended reflection, informed the party board and leadership team: I will not seek to become a candidate for the office of German Chancellor," party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 57, announced Monday, according to Deutsche-Welle.
Merkel later told reporters, "I regard this decision with great respect, though I greatly regret it."
"I can imagine this wasn't an easy decision for her and I thank her for being prepared to stay on to steer the process of choosing a successor," said the longtime chancellor, whose her current term will be her last.
Kramp-Karrenbauer's decision follows a period of unrest within the Christian Democratic Union.
Kramp-Karrenbauer was elected party leader in December 2018 — and was widely believed to be Merkel's preferred candidate, even though the chancellor didn't publicly endorse her. But "AKK," as she is often known, has since had trouble uniting its many disparate factions. Those tensions came to a head last week.
"Last week, in the German state of Thuringia, a local faction of her party joined the far-right Alternative for Deutschland party — known as the AfD — to elect the state's first minister, breaking with the party's aversion to working with the AfD, a party many in Germany label fascist," NPR's Rob Schmitz reported from Berlin.
The breakaway went against Kramp-Karrenbauer's explicit wishes as well as a post-WWII norm that major parties avoid cooperating with the far-right.
"The AfD stands against everything we as the CDU represent," Kramp-Karrenbauer said Monday, according to The Associated Press. "Any convergence with AfD weakens the CDU."
AfD is vocally anti-immigrant. In recent years, some CDU voters have cast votes for that party instead, particularly in light of Merkel's 2015 decision to welcome asylum seekers into Germany
When she became party leader, Kramp-Karrenbauer narrowly beat out Merkel's rival Friedrich Merz, As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported at the time, Kramp-Karrenbauer "has a long road ahead to persuade German voters and the greater European Union that she can be as stabilizing and powerful a chancellor as Merkel."
Now, Merz is seen as a possible successor, along with Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn and CDU premier of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet, among others. Kramp-Karrenbauer is currently Germany's defense minister and reportedly wants to remain in the position.
"This decision will have, in my view, no effect on the stability of the government coalition," Kramp-Karrenbauer said Monday. "I was and I am leader of the party, and will remain in that role for the foreseeable future. I have decided for myself that I won't run for chancellor. Other than that, nothing has changed so far."
Kramp-Karrenbauer also has endured several scandals during her time as party leader, including a notorious incident in which she poked fun at the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms during a speech at a carnival celebration.