Merkel's Bavarian allies are arming themselves for election bloodshed

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<pre><pre>Merkel's Bavarian allies are arming themselves for election bloodshed

BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel's Bavarian allies on Sunday in a regional vote over more than 60 years point to the worst result of their state election, which should boost tensions in the fragile German coalition government.

The chairman of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer and the Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder appear at a CSU election campaign on October 12, 2018 in Munich. REUTERS / Michael Dalder

According to recent polls, the Christian Social Union (CSU) will gain around 34 percent, losing the absolute majority that allowed the center-right party to dominate its south-eastern heartland most of the post-war period.

The polling stations are open at 8:00 am (6:00 am GMT), and broadcasters are expected to release polls shortly after 6:00 pm (1,600 GMT).

One of the biggest winners is likely to be the green Greens, which will double their share of votes to 19 percent and overtake the left-liberal Social Democratic Party (SPD) as the second largest party.

The regional protest party Free Voters and the Anti-Immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) are expected to receive around 10 percent of the vote.

This could complicate the efforts of the CSU Prime Minister Markus Soeder to a stable coalition government in Bavaria.

The fragmented election results could force Soeder, who has ruled out a coalition with the AfD, into an embarrassing alliance with the left-centered Greens.

Horst Seehofer, CSU party leader and interior minister in the Merkel federal government, could face confrontation with at least one of his posts after the election in Bavaria, as his harsh rhetoric against asylum seekers will probably scare away voters.

"We have lost confidence because of the CSU," said Volker Bouffier, deputy party chairman of Merkel's CDU, the newspaper Welt am Sonntag. He accused Seehofer of damaging the image of the CDU / CSU conservative alliance.

Bouffier is Prime Minister in Hesse, where more regional elections will take place later this month.

Seehofer was one of Merkel's fiercest critics after she decided in 2015 to welcome more than 1 million migrants. He has gradually moved the CSU, the sister party of the CDU, to the right to counteract the rise of the AfD party.

The split between the conservative coalition partners has intensified since March when an inconclusive national election forced them to form a coalition with the left-wing SPD.

Merkel's fourth and probably last government has twice been on the verge of collapse, in clashes over immigration and a scandal over the former German espionage master. The parties are also arguing over how environmentally-damaging diesel cars are being phased out and tax cuts are being made for the rich.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Clelia Oziel

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