Bavaria's Pauli flies the flag in bid for leadership

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The Independent Online

She has red hair, rides a motorcycle, thinks marriage should be limited to seven years and shocked voters by posing for a glossy magazine in black dominatrix-style latex gloves – yet this weekend she is hoping to become leader of Germany's most staunchly Catholic conservative party.

The twice-divorced 50-year-old Gabriele Pauli, stepped up her campaign for the leadership of Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) – the sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservatives – by having herself pictured on the front cover of Bunte magazine dressed in little more than a blue-and-white Bavarian flag.

"Is rebel Gabriele Pauli the secret winner?" the publication, which rates as Germany's answer to Britain's Hello! magazine, asked. If the opinion polls are anything to go by, then Ms Pauli, a CSU state counsellor in the Bavarian city of Fürth, is certainly no winner – secret or otherwise.

Ratings published yesterday suggested she would win less than 6 per cent of the vote in this weekend's leadership contest and commentators were already preparing her political obituary – but not without giving her credit for shaking up Germany's most deeply entrenched bastion of conservatism that has controlled Bavaria for the past 45 years.

Ms Pauli hit the headlines in Germany in January after launching a campaign to rid Bavaria of Edmund Stoiber, the 66-year-old veteran Eurosceptic conservative who bows out as the state's prime minister this weekend after ruling for 14 years.

She declared that Mr Stoiber, who in 2002 made an attempt to replace Gerhard Schröder as Chancellor, was out of touch" with the Bavarian electorate, domineering and sexist. "He has turned in on himself and only takes advice from a narrow circle," she said. Her campaign received an expected boost following revelations about a "Stasi-style" spying operation allegedly launched by Mr Stoiber's office in which Ms Pauli's party colleagues were said to have been questioned about her personal life in at attempt to discredit her. Mr Stoiber responded by firing his office manager.

Ms Pauli's campaign to oust Mr Stoiber put so much pressure on the party that the Bavarian leader will retire from politics this weekend, some six years earlier than planned. Her decision to run for the CSU leadership was almost certainly prompted by poll ratings earlier this year which suggested that she had the support of 60 per cent of Bavarians.

However, her decision to have herself photographed wearing a wig and elbow-high latex gloves for Germany's Vanity Fair magazine did little to impress voters in staunchly Catholic Bavaria. Her policies failed to make up for the blunder.

Her ideas about marriage, which have received wide publicity, included the proposal that Bavaria should formally endorse the idea of matrimony being strictly limited to a period of seven years. Couples would then have an opportunity to reconsider. That idea impressed voters even less.

Yesterday, Ms Pauli told Bunte: "I appeal to God for help very often. I will be doing this before the party congress this weekend." If the polls are accurate, then she will sorely need the help of the Almighty. The front- runners in the race for the CSU leadership are Horst Seehofer, a former German health minister who has received wide publicity after having a child with his secretary and then deciding to go back to his wife, and Erwin Huber, Mr Stoiber's former right-hand man.