Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel’s Anointed Successor, Won’t Run for Chancellor

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s anointed successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said on Monday that she would quit as party leader and no longer seek the country’s top position, adding to the political uncertainty in Europe’s most important democracy.The announcement followed five days of political turmoil, in which the local chapter of the Christian Democratic Union in the eastern state of Thuringia voted for the same candidate as the far-right Alternative for Germany, prompting a national outcry.The move came in defiance of a direct order from Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who as party leader had given clear instructions not to collaborate with the Alternative for Germany at any level.Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is also defense minister, was chosen as leader of Ms. Merkel’s conservative party in December 2018 and had been widely expected to succeed her as chancellor because the two roles traditionally go hand in hand in Germany. She will remain as party leader until the summer, while a replacement is found.But since becoming the party leader, Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer had steadily lost support in opinion polls. The upheaval in Thuringia showed how far her authority had eroded, and the decision throws the race to succeed Ms. Merkel as chancellor wide open again.Several potential candidates are waiting in the wings, most prominently Friedrich Merz, who narrowly lost to Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer at the 2018 party conference but is popular with the Christian Democrats’ conservative wing. Mr. Merz said this month that he would step down from his job in finance to return to politics full time.Another potential contender is Armin Laschet, the centrist leader of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. A former junior minister of integration and a staunch defender of Ms. Merkel’s refugee policy, Mr. Laschet is seen as the candidate of continuity. He did not throw his hat in the ring at the party conference, but he has indicated that he would be “available.”In the current political climate, the crisis in Thuringia has given Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s resignation particular symbolic importance. She has categorically rejected working with Alternative for Germany, which is commonly known by its German acronym, AfD.In June, she accused the AfD of creating the “intellectual climate” in which a far-right extremist shot and killed Walter Lübcke, a regional government official, in what was the first far-right political assassination in Germany since World War II.Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer has said that anyone who toys with the idea of working with the AfD “should close their eyes and imagine Walter Lübcke.”The far-right party was quick to hail her resignation as a victory. Alexander Gauland, a senior party leader, welcomed Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s announcement as a sign that there was no longer a consensus inside the Christian Democrats on isolating the AfD.“It is completely nonsensical and delusional not to want to work with the AfD in the long term,” Mr. Gauland said. “Her party grass roots have long understood this. “



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