But Seehofer also said he intends to remain as leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats — ensuring he will retain a key role as the chancellor tries to form a government in Berlin.
Seehofer announced his decision to bow out as state premier at a meeting with regional CSU lawmakers in Munich on Monday morning, according to German press agency DPA.
The decision is good news for Merkel, whose efforts to build a stable coalition government following inconclusive elections in September were complicated by the internecine strife inside the CSU.
At a meeting on Monday in the Bavarian capital Munich, the 101-strong CSU group in the regional parliament chose Söder (left) as their preferred successor to Seehofer, who said he would stand down as prime minister in the first quarter of next year but would retain the office of CSU chairman.
Seehofer, who has been prime minister of Germany’s largest state since 2008, had come under growing pressure to resign since the election, when the CSU slumped to its worst result since 1949.
But he had been loath to cede power to Söder, the current Bavarian finance minister. The deep antipathy between the two men had become one of the abiding leitmotifs of German politics in recent months.
The CSU, which stands for election in Bavaria and forms a bloc with Merkel’s Christian Democrats nationally, won only 38 per cent of the vote in September, 10.5 percentage points lower than in 2013. Voters abandoned the party in droves for the populist, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party.
Seehofer was associated in many Bavarians’ minds with Merkel’s decision to let more than a million refugees into Germany in 2015-16 — even though he had always opposed the policy.
Concern had increased in CSU ranks that without a change of course the party could lose its treasured absolute majority in regional elections next year.
The feud between the CDU and CSU over refugees was finally resolved in October when the two parties agreed that Germany should not let in more than 200,000 refugees a year, except in emergencies. The deal was seen as a partial victory for Seehofer, who had long pressed for a cap.
Tensions between Seehofer and Söder complicated Merkel’s efforts to form a coalition between her CDU, the CSU, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats. Talks collapsed last month when the FDP walked out.
Merkel is hoping to form a “grand coalition” with the left-of-centre Social Democrats, though the SPD has yet to decide on whether to take up her offer.
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