Bavaria's CSU leader quits after election blow

MUNICH, Germany Tue Sep 30, 2008 9:50am BST

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MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - The leader of the German conservatives in Bavaria, Erwin Huber, announced his resignation on Tuesday after his Christian Social Union (CSU) scored its worst result in decades in a state election.

The CSU, Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), lost the absolute majority it had held in Bavaria's state assembly for nearly half a century on Sunday and will be forced to form a coalition government.

The sharp drop in support for the CSU in Sunday's election is a blow to Merkel's prospects of winning re-election in a federal vote next year because she relies heavily on the Bavarian party for her majority in the German parliament.

"At the special party conference (next month) I will vacate my position," Huber told reporters at a brief news conference in Munich. "This will give the party the opportunity for a new beginning in its leadership."

Huber, a former tax inspector who took over the party leadership from Edmund Stoiber last year, has come under fire in the prosperous southern state for a perceived lack of charisma and political vision.

On Monday, Huber had blamed his party's losses at least partly on Merkel, saying the CSU was paying the price for policy compromises struck by the "grand coalition" between Merkel's CDU, the CSU and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

CSU leaders have also attacked Merkel for failing to back their tax cut plans during the state election campaign.

Horst Seehofer, federal agriculture and consumer minister, is widely expected to replace Huber as CSU chairman.

The 59-year-old lost his bid for the chairmanship of the party a year ago because of a drop in support among Catholic CSU members after news broke that his mistress had given birth to his child.

"It's going to be Horst Seehofer, he is very broadly accepted," German Economy Minister Michael Glos, a senior CSU member, said in Berlin.

Seehofer is likely to be a more combative figure than his predecessor and could take a more confrontational approach towards Merkel and her CDU.

The party is set to vote on its new leader on October 25 at a special party conference.

(Writing by Madeline Chambers and Noah Barkin; Editing by Charles Dick)

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