The leader of Germany’s main governing party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is standing down and will not put herself forward to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor, reports say.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer took over as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in December 2018.
She was seen as the favourite to take over as German chancellor in 2021.
The CDU was recently criticised over a contested regional election result in the eastern state of Thuringia.
Last week, some of the CDU’s local politicians in Thuringia voted with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to install liberal candidate Thomas Kemmerich as regional premier.
Mr Kemmerich later said he would resign and seek new elections in the state, “to remove the stain of the AfD’s support for the office of the premiership”.
For mainstream parties to collaborate with the AfD is considered a taboo, and no state premier has ever taken office before with the aid of the AfD.
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The AfD has grown in popularity in recent years but has been condemned for its extreme views on immigration, freedom of speech and the press.
Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer – also known as AKK – made the surprise announcement that she no longer wanted to lead her CDU party following a meeting with members.
At that meeting, she said that parts of the CDU held an ambiguous position towards the far right and left.
In November, AKK urged critics to support her vision for Germany and threatened to stand down if the party failed to back her at the CDU’s annual congress in Leipzig.
She is now expected to remain in position until a leadership contest determines her replacement in the summer.
Mrs Merkel has also reportedly supported a request by AKK to stay on as German defence minister.
Who is AKK?
The 57-year-old joined the CDU in 1981 as a 19-year-old student and, after completing a masters in political science, worked her way up in state-level politics.
She became the first woman to serve as a state minister for internal affairs in 2000 and the first woman to serve as prime minister of Saarland, a position she held from 2011 to 2018.
After being nominated by Chancellor Merkel, AKK was elected as CDU general secretary with a record 98.9% of the vote.
In her first address as CDU leader in 2018, after ending Mrs Merkel’s 18-year reign, AKK – seen as a moderate choice for the leadership – called for party unity.
During her farewell speech as party leader, Ms Merkel praised AKK for her 2017 electoral success in Saarland, in a clear hint that the chancellor saw her as her successor.
More on the far-right in Germany:
- Merkel fires minister over far-right row
- How far right caused earthquake in German politics
- AfD: Victim or victor?