State premier Hannelore Kraft of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) had been ruling in a minority government with the Greens for less than two years – on one vote short of a majority.
But on Wednesday opposition parties, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the socialist Left party refused to endorse part of the state budget.
Kraft had threatened to dissolve the parliament in Düsseldorf should that happen, and on Wednesday afternoon the major parties voted in favour, triggering an election within 60 days.
“Thankyou, that we in this nearly two years, we have been able to move forward with something that at first no-one had believed in,” said Kraft, in a nod to the opposition parties, which had supported her minority government in votes on education reform and municipal financing.
An initial poll suggested that while the SPD-Green government could fare well in the new election, the FDP would be wiped off the state parliament map.
The survey conducted by polling firm YouGov for the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper's Thursday edition showed the SPD and CDU both securing 33 percent of the vote, and the Greens improving their previous performance of 12 percent to reach 17 percent.
The FDP would get just two percent, well below the five-percent minimum needed to send any representative to parliament. The Pirate Party would get seven percent, securing their first entry to the North Rhine-Westphalia parliament, while the Left party would be left teetering on the edge of representation with five percent.
This would give the SPD-Green coalition 50 percent of the vote and leave CDU in opposition without a viable potential coalition partner.
When asked how they would vote when given the chance to elect their state premier directly, 42 percent said Kraft would be their choice while just 21 percent said they wanted the CDU candidate Norbert Röttgen – currently federal environment minister.
“I will lead the party in the election, and I will lead it in the election to become the strongest party and state premier,” he said on Wednesday, although there was no indication of which coalition partner he might secure to form a government.
Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the new election in North Rhine-Westphalia, but said it had nothing to do with federal politics.
“The work on the federal level is completely independent from the work in the states,” she said, according to Die Welt newspaper.
“If it should come to new elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, then I believe it is good and right that we would no longer have a minority government there.”
The loss of the CDU's preferred coalition partner, the FDP, in North Rhine-Westphalia would be taken as a signal for the probability of a similar development nationally – as the FDP has been bumping along the bottom of national polls, with around two percent support, for months.