German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced on Monday that he would resign from the presidency of the CSU, the Bavarian branch of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.
Seehofer said he would stay on as the federal minister of the interior.
“I’m going to give up my term as party leader,” he said on a trip to the eastern town of Bautzen, adding that he would specify in during week the timetable for his departure.
69-year-old Horst Seehofer said he was stepping down as head of the party to allow for a renewal of its leadership. “I am making this decision to make 2019 a year of renewal for the CSU,” he said.
He said that his departure was not linked to the electoral debacle during the regional elections in the state of Bavaria a month ago. With just over 37 percent of the vote, the CSU suffered its most serious electoral setback since 1950 in its stronghold of Bavaria.
Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel were previously close allies, but they have quarreled since the beginning of the year on migration policy and border security. All three government coalition parties, the CDU, CSU and the centre-left SPD have seen significant declines in popularity as a result of discontent with their handling of immigration, to the benefit of the far-left and Right, specifically the Greens and the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party.
The resignation of Horst Seehofer comes at a delicate moment for German politics. After disastrous results in Hesse, Merkel announced that she would step down as leader of her party, the CDU, and that she would not run for political office in the next elections.
Seehofer had been strongly criticised for his decision to back the head of German intelligence Hans-Georg Massen after he questioned media accounts of the far-right violence against foreigners in Chemnitz last August.
Markus Soder, who was reelected as Prime Minister of Bavaria last week is widely expected to replace Seehofer as party leader when he steps down.