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Germany

Bavarian Premier Quits After Conservatives' Poll Disaster

The premier of Bavaria, Guenther Beckstein, announced Wednesday he would step down, making him the third casualty of a disastrous election campaign for his conservative party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Bavarian Premier Guenther Beckstein

Bavarian Premier Guenther Beckstein was at the helm of the CSU's worst election showing in decades

Beckstein's resignation followed that of former CSU leader Erwin Huber who relinquished his post Tuesday. The CSU had elected the two men to their positions only a year ago.

The resignations came after the CSU's worst election showing in half a century.

Beckstein said at a brief news conference on Wednesday, Oct 1 he would not be available to lead the planned coalition government in the state because he lacked the "necessary degree of support" within the party.

"After the painful defeat, I notice that my support within the party...is not sufficient to successfully take on the difficult duties that lie ahead for the state premier," Beckstein said.

Beckstein had refused Monday to shoulder the blame for the election disaster, insisting Bavarians still wanted a CSU-led government, but that they no longer wanted the conservatives to govern alone.

Both Huber and Beckstein were blamed for a series of policy blunders over issues such as education, a much-loathed smoking ban and the scrapping of a multi-billion-euro maglev train link to Munich airport.

Four-member race to replace Beckstein

CSU Vice Chairman Horst Seehofer

CSU Vice Chairman Horst Seehofer, right, is tipped to be CSU party leader

While Horst Seehofer, agriculture and consumer affairs minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet in Berlin, is widely expected to become CSU leader, there will be a contest for the state premiership.

Alongside Seehofer, Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, state Science Minister Thomas Goppel and head of the CSU's parliamentary party Georg Schmid have expressed an interest in taking over the premiership, according to CSU deputies.

Seehofer, who is also CSU vice-chairman, is the only one who is known nationally. The 59-year-old lost support among conservative quarters last year after it emerged that his mistress had given birth to his child.

"We will make it clear to people that we have understood Sunday's election result," Seehofer told reporters Tuesday, adding that an upcoming party conference was about "stabilizing the party" and making it "fresh and modern."

Ruinous election result

Gabriele Pauli, top candidate for an independent voters' association of Nuremberg

Bavarians turned their backs on the CSU in large numbers and turned towards Bavaria's smaller parties

The CSU, which had single-handedly ruled the German state for more than four decades and is a key party in Merkel's federal coalition, lost nearly one third of its voter support Sunday.

Left with only 43.4 percent, the CSU -- Bavaria's sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union -- fell short of a majority and will be forced to form a coalition government, all factors which have led to the downfall of Beckstein and Huber.

Analysts have said that the Bavaria outcome could hurt Merkel's chances of retaining power in federal elections scheduled for Sept. 2009.

CSU Secretary General Christine Haderthauer, who herself resigned Tuesday in the wake of the weekend's poll, said the disastrous result was a black day for the party.

In the last state elections in 2003, the CSU polled 60.7 percent of the vote in the strongly Catholic state, where some of Germany's leading companies have their headquarters, including Siemens and BMW.

The party's stated intent had been to retain its absolute majority in the 180-seat Parliament in Munich. "We have clearly failed to achieve our goal," Haderthauer said.

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