Bavarian leader joins race to run as German chancellor candidate


FILE PHOTO: Armin Laschet, head of conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, gives a statement following a meeting with his party's leadership at the CDU headquarters in Berlin, Germany March 29, 2021. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) -Bavarian premier Markus Soeder put himself forward on Sunday to run as the conservative candidate for German chancellor in a September election and said he would settle the question soon and amicably with his rival, the Christian Democrat (CDU) chief.

Pressure is mounting for a swift decision on whether Soeder, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), or the CDU's Armin Laschet should stand for the two-party bloc in the Sept. 26 election, making them the candidate to succeed Angela Merkel.

"Markus Soeder and I had a long conversation before today. We declared our willingness to run for the chancellorship," CDU leader Armin Laschet told a joint news conference.

Laschet lags Soeder in opinion polls but, as leader of the larger CDU, effectively has first refusal and enjoys the support of some powerful state premiers.

With September elections nearing, conservatives are pressing for a decision on the candidacy to end speculation which is highlighting divisions.

Laschet said the next step would come on Monday with CDU and CSU committee meetings but he gave no time for the decision.

"We want to win this election in the autumn - that is the main aim. And we are now thinking about the best formation," said Soeder.

"There is a great expectation that a joint solution will be reached sooner rather than later," said Soeder, stressing that the two rivals had agreed to show each other respect.

CONSERVATIVES NERVOUS WITHOUT MERKEL

Laschet, 60, is a centrist widely seen as a candidate who would continue Merkel's legacy, but he has clashed with her over coronavirus restrictions. Premier of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, his chaotic handling of the crisis has undermined his popularity.

Soeder, 54, is an astute political operator who has sided with Merkel during the pandemic. No CSU leader has become German chancellor.

Many conservatives are nervous about contesting the Sept. 26 federal election without Merkel, who has led them to four victories. She has ruled out standing for a fifth term and has not explicitly backed either candidate although she has hinted that she would back the CDU leader.

The conservative bloc has slipped to about 27% in polls, partly due to an increasingly chaotic management of the pandemic. In the 2017 election, it won almost 33%.

The Social Democrats have nominated Finance Minister Olaf Scholz as their candidate for chancellor, while the Greens plan to announce their nomination on April 19.

(Additional reporting by Paul Carrel; Editing by Mike Harrison and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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