After over 10 years of leadership under Horst Seehofer, the CSU has elected long-time rival Markus Söder to replace him. It's the end of an era, but Angela Merkel's CDU hopes it will also mark a turnaround in tensions.
Garnering 87.4 percent of the vote from party delegates — and running unopposed — Bavarian state premier Markus Söder was chosen as the newest leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) at a special party conference in Munich on Saturday.
The 52-year-old from Nuremberg will replace Horst Seehofer as the leader of the CSU — the Bavarian sister-party to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).
"We've had difficult times and I am all the more pleased with your vote of confidence now," Söder said following his election.
The CSU lost its absolute majority in Bavaria's state parliament for the first time in 60 years during last October's state elections while Söder was state premier.
During Germany's general election in 2017, the CSU bled support to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) while Seehofer held both the posts of CSU party head and Bavaria state premier.
In just two years, Markus Söder scored a CSU coup by taking on the posts of Bavarian state premier and CSU leader — jobs once held for years by Horst Seehofer
Söder vows new direction
In laying out his vision for the future of the party, Söder said he wanted to strengthen the CSU, making it a "protector for the people" during the uncertain times of globalization.
He also pledged to make the conservative party more attractive to voters with immigrant backgrounds, imploring party delegates to "talk with them as well."
"You become Bavarian not only by birth, but also through attitude and conviction," Söder said.
The election not only marks an end to the Seehofer era, but also marks the first time that a Protestant was chosen to lead the typically Catholic-dominated party.
His flashy oratory style and his dedication to Bavarian traditions and carnival costumes have endeared Söder to many CSU supporters, but his policies have also met with pushback — particularly a police reform law which prompted massive protests.
Both Söder and the new CDU head, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, hope to open a new chapter in the relationship between the parties
Hope for an end to tensions
The CSU isn't the only party to undergo a leadership shakeup. Last month, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer took over as the head of the CDU after Merkel stepped down from the post, also following poor state election results.
Tensions between Seehofer and Merkel over immigration and refugee policy nearly toppled Merkel's government last year have soured the ties between the sister parties — with both the new CDU and CSU leaders pledging to get the relationship back on track.
"We need a new form of cooperation between the CDU and CSU, to open a new chapter," Söder said.
Also speaking at the CSU's party conference, Kramp-Karrenbauer told delegates: "We are, we were and we will remain a political family."
rs/jm (dpa, AFP, Reuters, KNA)