BERLIN, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) — Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, head of the German ruling party Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has announced that she will not run for chancellor in the 2021 general election and will step down as the conservative party chair.
The surprise announcement of Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is widely seen as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand-picked successor, was perceived as a political earthquake and the vacuum left at the top of German political parties could open a new round of power struggle, political analysts say.
Kramp-Karrenbauer was elected as chief of the CDU at the national party congress in December 2018 when Merkel signaled her intention to bow out of German politics.
Since then, the 57-year-old was constantly called “little Merkel” as many thought she would largely follow Merkel’s political path.
However, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s abillity to lead was questioned, following last week’s state premiere election in Germany’s eastern state of Thuringia when members of her CDU indirectly collaborated with the right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD), crossing a political redline.
She was also criticized for the CDU’s landslide setbacks in state elections in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia as well as in European parliamentary elections.
Analysts close to the party circle said that Kramp-Karrenbauer’s prestige in the party has never been overwhelming and her ability was somehow handicapped by potential challengers.
“CDU has at least three, maybe even four secret party leaders besides Kramp-Karrenbauer,” political analyst Andrea Roemmele told local television ARD.
Kramp-Karrenbauer herself claimed that the dualistic power pattern eroded the cohesion of her party.
Though appointed as party chief, Kramp-Karrenbauer was never officially recognized by the party as its chancellor candidate in the 2021 elections.
In a party press conference on Monday, Kramp-Karrenbauer said splitting the posts of chancellor candidate and CDU leader, a move backed by Merkel, had been a mistake.
“The open question of the chancellor candidacy is weakening the CDU at a time when politics in Germany…depends on a strong CDU,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.
A party conference expected at the end of this year will decide who will fill the post left by Kramp-Karrenbauer.
German media on Tuesday listed Merkel’s potential successors who would probably become the next candidate for chancellor, including pro-business economic liberal Friedrich Merz; Health Minister Jens Spahn; Armin Laschet, premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia; and Markus Soeder, head of CDU’s Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU).
Gu Xuewu, a professor of political science at the University of Bonn, said competition for the post would also be a contest for different political paths.
A focal point was how the CDU’s center-left and center-right forces cope with the AfD, said Gu.
“The center-left, represented by Laschet, might draw a clear line with AfD while the center-right might possibly tolerate an indirect interaction with AfD,” Gu said.