The leader of the governing Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has confirmed media reports that she will not run for chancellor in the 2021 federal elections.
During a press conference on Monday, she, however, clarified that she would remain party chair until another candidate is found.
Kramp-Karrenbauer further elaborated that she would retain the position of defence minister until autumn 2021.
Earlier in the day, Reuters reported, citing a CDU source that Kramp-Karrenbauer had decided not to run for the top job. At the same time, the agency noted that Merkel wanted her to remain as German defence minister and expressed regret over Kramp-Karrenbauer's decision.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said he regretted the decision made by Kramp-Karrenbauer.
"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," Merkel said during a press conference, as quoted by Reuters.
The news comes after a political crisis in Thuringia, where the state's Minister-President Thomas Kemmerich won the local elections, gaining votes not only from the CDU but also from the right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD).
This contravened the principles of the Christian Democrats' leadership, as the party has refused to cooperate with the AfD and is part of a broad coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).
Merkel harshly criticised Kemmerich, claiming that support from AfD was "unforgivable" - despite the politician not actually being a CDU member and belonging to the centrist Free Democratic Party (FDP). The chancellor also stated that "the result must be reversed", adding that the vote was "a bad day for democracy".
The head of Thuringia then resigned on Saturday, while CDU, its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democrats called on Thuringia to hold new elections, reiterating their decision to refuse to cooperate with AFD at "all levels" across the country.
However, a poll held on Friday showed support for the CDU in Thuringia decreasing by some 10% following the scandal - which is almost half of the party votes.