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CSU's Horst Seehofer to step down as Bavaria's premier

Horst Seehofer, state premier of Bavaria, is set to step down, but will remain head of the CSU as part of a party compromise. Intra-party conflict has made coalition building in Berlin difficult.

Horst Seehofer is set to step down as Bavaria's state premier before local elections next year in order to end an internal crisis within his Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Seehofer, who will retain his position as party leader, is to be replaced at the helm of the Bavarian government by the state's current finance minister, Markus Söder. State parliament party delegates voted for Söder unanimously on Monday, after state interior minister Joachim Herrmann bowed out of the race.

Speaking at the session of delegates in Munich on Monday, Söder said it was the beginning of a "new chapter" for the party.

After recent wrangles at the top of the party, Söder said it was now time to "speak to one another rather than over one another" and to again find common ground. Söder said he would accept the responsibility "with courage, but also with humility."

After meeting with senior party leaders on Sunday, Seehofer had said a consensus had been reached that was "generally well received."

Struggle to form a coalition

Seehofer is expected to step down by the end of February, the broadcaster Bayerische Rundfunk reported, but not before federal coalition talks are completed in Berlin. 

Party sources said the idea was not to weaken Seehofer's position in coalition talks at the federal level, where he may end up as a minister.

Merkel's CDU and the CSU are looking to enter coalition talks with the Social Democrats (SPD) for another "grand coalition" after preliminary coalition talks with the Free Democrats and Greens broke down last month.

Read more: Another Angela Merkel-led grand coalition in Germany — What you need to know

The SPD is expected to make a decision this weekon whether to enter formal talks with the conservatives.

Intra-party conflict within the CSU could complicate Merkel's effort to form a new government. The other options would be for the conservatives to form a minority government or to call a new election. But both are considered problematic.

Seehofer has been under pressure to resign or give up some power after the CSU took a drubbing in September's federal election, getting 38.8 percent of the Bavarian vote compared to 49.3 percent in the 2013 ballot.

The CSU operates only in Bavaria, but is allied with Merkel's CDU at the national level. The two parties jointly conduct coalition talks.

However, differences within the conservative grouping have emerged over issues such as immigration, after the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) pulled votes from the CDU and CSU. Those differences have largely been patched up after the sister parties agreed on a tougher immigration platform.

rc, cw/ng (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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