Merkel’s Bavarian allies elect new head, ushering in new era

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies elected a new leader Saturday, a change that offers Germany’s center-right a chance to move past their persistent bickering over recent years.

The 52-year-old Markus Soeder was elected unopposed in Munich with more than 87 percent of the votes to lead the Christian Social Union. The CSU is the Bavaria-only sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, an independent-minded and sometimes-awkward ally despite the fact that they have a joint group in Germany’s national parliament.

Soeder replaces 69-year-old Horst Seehofer, the CSU leader for the past decade and the most prominent domestic opponent of Merkel’s welcoming approach to refugees in 2015.

The friction between Merkel and Seehofer threatened at one point to bring down the chancellor’s coalition government over Seehofer’s insistence that some asylum-seekers should be turned away at the country’s borders.

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Soeder already succeeded Seehofer, now Germany’s interior minister, as Bavarian governor last year.

With Seehofer now replaced as head of the CSU, Merkel’s Cabinet now has no governing party leaders as ministers, including from the junior coalition Social Democratic Party.

Last month, Merkel ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer took over leadership of the CDU. She and Soeder appear keen to improve relations between the two parties that have frayed at times.

Soeder told delegates at the party congress where he was elected that it was “time for a new strength of the CDU and CSU together in Germany.”

“We must open a new chapter of cooperation,” he said.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was invited to talk at the CSU congress, told delegates the two parties’ differences made them a more effective bloc.

“I come from a family of with many siblings. And we are siblings, CDU and CSU, not identical twins,” she said. “We were never that. We are different, and that makes us stronger.”

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