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CDU suffers defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia

AFP/DDP/The Local · 9 May 2010, 22:56

Published: 09 May 2010 18:10 GMT+02:00
Updated: 09 May 2010 22:56 GMT+02:00

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Merkel's conservatives won 34.5 percent, according to exit polls by public broadcaster ARD, which would be their worst result ever in the state. The CDU's coalition allies the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) won 6.8 percent, leaving them well short of a majority.

The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) garnered 34.5 percent, the environmentalist Greens took a record 12.1 percent, and the socialist Left party likely managed to get its first seats in the state legislature with 5.6 percent.

“This election evening is bitter for both CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia and me personally,” said the state's conservative premier Jürgen Rüttgers, who hinted he might try to pursue a coalition with the SPD or Greens in the coming days.

“We’ll have to wait and see who’s ahead at the end of the night. North Rhine-Westphalia needs a stable government and that cannot happen with extremist parties,” he said, referring to the possibility the SPD could link up with the Greens and the hard-line socialists from The Left.

The head of the SPD in the state, Hannelore Kraft, hopes to succeed Rüttgers as premier, but it was not immediately clear if her preferred coalition with the Greens would be able to eke out a majority.

“I’ll think we’ll come out ahead in the end and it will be enough for red-green,” Kraft said, referring to the two parties’ colours.

The CDU plunged in the polls since the last election in 2005, when they scored 44.8 percent. But the SPD, which governed the state for the previous four decades, has also lost support, having scored 37.1 in 2005.

The result, if confirmed, will make it considerably harder for Merkel to push key reforms through the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament that represents Germany's 16 federal states. It could stymie efforts including sweeping tax reforms she believes are needed to revitalise Europe's top economy.

The timing of the election could hardly have been worse for Rüttgers' Christian Democrats, who have governed the state with the FDP since 2005. Most Germans oppose the €22.4 billion ($28.6 billion) in loans Berlin agreed to offer debt-wracked Greece only two days before the state election.

A poll published Saturday showed that 21 percent of NRW voters said the Greek bailout would affect their ballot decision, according to a YouGov survey for the daily Bild.

The outgoing government in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) mirrored the same centre-right coalition Merkel has in Berlin, making the poll a damaging referendum on her government eight months after she won re-election.

FDP leader Guido Westerwelle, who is also Merkel's vice-chancellor and foreign minister, called the poll result a "warning shot" by voters that would have clear consequences at the national level.

"Citizens need to know that we have heard their message. We must redouble our efforts to win back their lost confidence in our work," he said.

The state is also home to the Ruhr rustbelt region, which has seen economic misery deepen during last year's deep recession.

Underlining the election's importance, Merkel scheduled 15 personal appearances in NRW and staged a media blitz this week to defend the aid to Greece. But the chancellor has also faced criticism in Germany and abroad of dragging her feet over the loans for Athens and thereby exacerbating the crisis.

Beyond control of the state legislature, the dominance of Merkel's coalition in the Bundesrat upper house is now history.

Story continues below…

Currently, the conservatives and the FDP hold 37 of the 69 seats in the Bundesrat, just over the 35 votes needed for an absolute majority. Losing North Rhine-Westphalia deprives the centre-right of six seats.

That will effectively axe a drive by the FDP to cut income taxes by €16 billion from 2012 - a move many conservatives, and many voters, oppose as fiscally irresponsible in light of Germany's parlous public finances.

It will also give the centre-left the power to block health care reforms planned by the coalition, and to restore an initiative to mothball the country's nuclear reactors against the wishes of the Merkel government.

The vote's impact will be long-lasting as well as it is the only state election planned this year.

"Scarcely one of the big projects that the conservatives and the FDP promised seven months ago in their coalition agreement will - if the polls are correct - survive this Sunday," the Tagesspiegel am Sonntag newspaper said.

AFP/DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

20:16 May 9, 2010 by Portnoy
Ah, the Merkel years coming home to roost. Suck it Ruettgers!
02:29 May 10, 2010 by Eagle1
Greece is in dire straits due to the policies of the left, yet Germany now wants to head to the left as well? That doesn't make a lot of sense.
04:12 May 10, 2010 by vonSchwerin
So the SPD won. Herzlichen Glückwunsch! Now what's their comprehensive plan for the German economy? How are they going to restructure the financial and labor sectors to be competitive with Asia? How will they encourage investment in Germany? And -- most pressing -- what's their plan to save the Euro and the europäischen Währungsunion?

They didn't vote "yes" for the Greek bailout, but they didn't have the courage to vote "no". It's not so easy being the party (or parties) in power. Difficult and unpopular decisions have to be made. Will Beck and Kraft have that kind of political courage? What about Lafontaine's successor and Beuermann?
04:52 May 10, 2010 by derExDeutsche

Welcome to the mind of the Socialist. It does not need to make sense.

That Evil German Free Market will pay for 'the People' until it too collapses and leaves the country.

then 'the People' will finally see that Free Market does not work. and the wonderful, completely trustworthy Govt. can finally take over.

Isn't there anything else the Govt. can tax? oh yeah, CO2!
11:51 May 11, 2010 by Struwel
The government of Greece is a social democracy, But it started to work only in October 2009. From 2004 - 2009 the party New Democracy governed Greece. That someway means that, instead of the Left, liberal conservatism (Modern European liberal conservatism combines current conservative policies with more liberal stances on social or moral issues. Most centre-right political parties in Europe are usually liberal conservative. Compared to a different group of centre-right parties, such as Christian democratic parties, liberal conservatism is less traditionalist, and usually more libertarian in economy, favouring low-taxes and small government. from Wikipedia) is to blame that Greece is doing that bad.
00:25 May 12, 2010 by Talonx
@ Struwel

Nice clarification :). The New Democracy party in Greece are akin to the FDP in Germany.
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