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What to know about Markus Söder, the 'power hungry' man soon to be Bavaria's leader

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What to know about Markus Söder, the 'power hungry' man soon to be Bavaria's leader
Markus Söder. Photo: DPA
15:10 CET+01:00
At the beginning of 2018 Bavaria will have a new Minister-President after incumbent Horst Seehfoer agreed to step aside. The man set to replace him comes across as a gruff populist, but is there more to him than meets the eye?

On Monday morning it was confirmed that the Christian Social Union (CSU) had unanimously picked Markus Söder as the man to replace Seehofer as Bavarian leader.

That choice must know be confirmed by the Bavarian state parliament. But the CSU have an absolute majority in the state parliament, making Söder's promotion close to a certainty.

Seehofer was forced to step aside after the CSU scored 39 percent in the national election in September, a drop of 10 percent and a disastrous result for a party who are used to ruling the wealthy southern state with next to no opposition.

In the deeply conservative Catholic state, the refugee policies of 2015 unsettled many voters, leading to a big surge in support for the Alternative for Germany. After they managed to win 12.6 percent, the CSU grass roots lost confidence in Seehofer's ability to stand up for the party's conservative core.

In Söder they have picked a man who rose to national prominence by loudly criticizing the government's refugee policies in 2015. He also follows in the CSU's time-honoured tradition of picking a "strongman" as their leader.

‘Power hungry with a big ego’

Markus Söder is reportedly very popular with grassroots supporters of the CSU in Bavaria. To the outsider, it is hard to see where the appeal lies. Rarely seen with a smile on his face, Söder comes across on television as arrogant and surly.

One adjective always crops up in association with the 50-year-old: "ambitious." Seehofer has little truck with the man and has accused him of being “pathologically ambitious” and suffering from “character deficiencies.”

According to Bayerischer Rundfunk journalist Sebastian Kraft, Söder is “a professional at marketing himself and has a big ego.”

Kraft wrote on tagesschau.de on Monday that Söder, who joined the CSU when he was 16, knows exactly how to build up his support base within the party and tours Bavaria constantly “as if on a perpetual election campaign.” At the same time he makes sure to be at the centre of every photo shoot and demands absolute loyalty from his associates.

“Söder’s biggest weakness is that he only knows black and white and he stays true to the motto: either you are with me or you are against me.”

At the same time, Kraft says that Söder has a reputation as a hard-working man of action. When Bavaria was hit by flooding in 2013, he was trusted to sort it out because in his department “things happen frictionlessly and without much fuss.”

Photo: DPA

Hardliner on refugees

Right from the start of the refugee influx in late 2015, Söder was sharply critical of the government’s decision to keep its borders open for asylum seekers. In October of that year he said that “we demand a huge limitation on migration,” adding that “we need to talk about the basic right to asylum.”

By questioning the right to asylum Söder was questioning a central aspect of international law. He also later blamed the refugee influx for terror attacks in Paris and said Germany should think about building a fence on its border to Austria.

His positions were so controversial at the time that they even faced criticism inside the CSU. Meanwhile many critics felt he was already making a power move against Seehofer, who had reluctantly gone along with the open-door policy.

Believer in 'German punctuality'
 
If Söder’s fondness for bashing parties of the left is anything to go by, he is clearly a conservative of the old school variety.

He told Spiegel back in 2004 that the 1968 generation were driving Germany towards disaster because they didn’t value the “typical German values of hard work, punctuality and discipline. Every type of patriotism is rejected.”

In fact his view of German values is so old fashioned, he sometimes sounds more similar to an Islamic fundamentalist than a 21st century German politician. In 2006 he called for anti-blasphemy laws to become stricter, saying that mocking the pope or the church “has nothing to do with satire.” He added that “the protection of religious feelings belongs to the fundamentals of our society."
 
But his enthusiasm for protecting religion from the secular state doesn't stretch much further than Christianity. He has said that "crucifixes belong in the classroom, not head scarves" and has also called for a complete ban on burqas in public spaces.

Surprisingly green

One opinion of Söder’s that one wouldn’t necessarily expect - he demanded back in 2007 that Germany ban the building of any new petrol and diesel engines by 2020, saying that they should be replaced by hydrogen-powered cars.

The CSU aren’t exactly known for being environmentalists, and recently fought with the Green party over banning new combustion engines by 2030. Söder recently said that he is committed to the CSU position in support of the diesel engine.

Influence on media

On several occasion Söder has been accused of pressuring broadcasters into reporting the news in a way that was favourable to him. In 2012 broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk pulled a reportage about Söder after his spokeswoman called them to complain about its “negative” stance.

Meanwhile Spiegel reported that he repeatedly sought to influence how the CSU were represented on national broadcaster ZDF between 2003 and 2007 when he sat on the TV station's advisory board.

Fancy dresser

Photo: DPA

Despite his penchant for a photo opportunity, Söder seems to be permanently grimacing. Perhaps with this in mind he dressed up for Fasching (Carnival) in 2014 as Shrek. But that's not the only alter ego he has taken on to considerable attention. He is well-known for his carnival costumes, which have also included a drag queen, Gandalf and Homer Simpson.

With DPA

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