Bavarian leader ready to run as German chancellor candidate – sources

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BERLIN, April 11 (Reuters) – The leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) party, Markus Soeder, said on Sunday he was willing to run as the conservative candidate for German chancellor in a September election, participants in a party meeting with him told Reuters.

Pressure is mounting for a decision soon on whether Christian Democrat (CDU) leader Armin Laschet or Soeder should stand for the two parties’ bloc in the Sept. 26 election, making them the candidate to succeed of Angela Merkel.

“If the CDU were willing to support me, I would be ready,” Soeder told a meeting of leading members of the parliamentary group, according to the participants. It is the first time he has said this.

Laschet lags Soeder in opinion polls but enjoys the support of some powerful state premiers.

Traditionally the leaders of the CDU and CSU decide between themselves who will run, but some lawmakers are demanding to have a say this time. With September elections nearing, conservatives are pressing for a decision on the candidacy to end speculation which is bringing divisions to the fore.

“If I take into account the mood across the CDU, the decision should come very quickly,” Laschet told Bild am Sonntag.

Laschet said no decision would be made on Sunday but speculation is rife that at least a procedure or timetable for a decision will be discussed.

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. He has made clear that he wants the candidacy and as leader of the bigger party he effectively has first refusal.

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

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. (Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mike Harrison and Raissa Kasolowsky)