Bavarian prime minister says he will run for German chancellor

3 minutes

The Bavarian Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer and the Saxony Prime Minister Markus Soeder presented their Covid Alliance' and 10 Point-Plan in Munich, Germany, March 1, 2021. Peter Kneffel Pool via ReUTERS File photo Dismissed for decades by critics as a country bumpkin who loves the silly carnival costumes, German leader Markus Soeder said on Sunday that he was willing to run as the conservative candidate for the Bavarian chancellor, provided he had the full backing of the bloc.

Angela Merkel, who has registered four election victories and dwelt the largest economy for 16 years, is not going to stand for a fifth term when Germany goes to the polls in September.

This means that the Christian Social Union of Bavaria and their sister party, the parliamentary bloc formed by her Christian democrats must decide on a candidate.

On paper, the choice seems obvious: Opinion polls give charismatic CSU chief Armin Laschet, 54, a substantial lead over charismatic CDU leader Soeder, who has also said he wants to run for the presidency.

Some 54% of Germans would prefer Soeder as chancellor compared to 19% for Laschet, a Germanytrend poll from April 1 showed, although Laschet has the support of some powerful conservative regional leaders.

However, a chancellor from Germany's CSU would be a first for Bavaria.

The social democrats' icon Franz Josef Strauss and Edmund Stoiber stood at the 1980 and 2002 federal elections respectively, but both lost to the State Democrats. The wealthy Alpine region is one of the most distinctive German states and combined with its proud traditions and distinctive identity, some Germans are wary of choosing a Bavarian as leader.

He has never hidden his political ambition, as a teenager he hung a poster of Strauss, the conservative leader who transformed and modernised Bavaria above his bed.

He was born in 1994 in Nuremberg and became a member of the Bavarian assembly. He rose through the ranks to become state premier in 2018 and CSU leader in 2019.

Soeder, a Protestant in a largely political state, has a knack for soundbites and his political antenna coupled with clear communication skills, have helped him get away with some major political reversals. He courted the anti-immigration alternative for Germany voters with fierce criticism of Merkel's open door policy of 2015, but by 2018 he had moved to the centre and started attacking the far-right party head on.

With opinion polls suggesting a likely conservative coalition with the Greens following the election, Soeder is now pushing for ambitious CO 2 emissions reductions.

He has even issued a joint statement with the popular Greens Premier of a neighbouring state on coronavirus restrictions.

His tough handling of the pandemic has boosted his popularity and he has consistently sided with Merkel against other state premiers in calling for decisive lockdowns. However, to some, it is his swagger and confidence that appeals.

He often talks for longer than Merkel at joint news conferences, and his extravagant costumes during the carnival season included Marilyn Monroe, Ludwig and the ever-popular mad King Shrek, builder of Bavaria's fairytale castle.

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