Merkel's party triumphs in rivals' heartland

Ivan Schwartz
May 19, 2017

Mr Schulz had been hoping for a boost after two previous state election defeats sapped his party's momentum.

FILE - In this May 2, 2017 file photo Armin Laschet, left, top candidate of chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, party and North Rhine-Westphalia governor Hannelore Kraft of the Social Democratic Party.

Schulz dubbed the result "a hard day for social democracy" shortly after conceding defeat. "I hail from the state where we just suffered a crushing election defeat".

Palpable frustration over worsening traffic congestion and crime that has plagued the crowded northwestern state, which borders the Netherlands and Belgium, were the decisive factors behind the Social Democrats' sudden demise after the party had ruled there for 46 of the last 51 years. "We will continue fighting, the result will come on 24 September".

In the past several months, some opinion polls have shown that Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, will have an edge over Merkel in the coming federal elections.

SPD leader Martin Schulz acknowledged that a loss in his home state is devastating for the party's chances.

"The German wave" with reference to the first exit poll reports that the CDU gaining 34.5% of the vote, while the social Democrats and 30.5%. But that failed to translate into votes in the last two state elections, when the CDU won comfortably.

Support for the Greens nearly halved to 6.4 percent, while the liberal Free Democratic Party gained four percentage points to 12.6 percent.

The nationalist Alternative for Germany was seen winning 7.5 percent, giving it seats in its 13th state legislature, and the opposition Left Party around 5 percent. What was clear is that the ruling SPD-Greens coalition fell far short of a majority as the Greens won about 6 per cent, down from 11.3 per cent in 2012.

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The result gives the CDU and Free Democrats a very slim majority.

That would mirror Merkel's national government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior partners.

The FDP have opted out of a coalition with the SPD and the SPD-Greens who do not want to form a government with the Conservatives and the Liberals.

Martin Schulz on Sunday. Merkel said her party would now gear up for the national campaign.

The Chancellor said: "I think this is disproportionate and the state government must do something about it, because it is responsible for that".

Kraft announced that she was stepping down as the Social Democrats' regional leader.

Because of its large industrial base and support from workers, Germany's most populous province, North Rhine-Westphalia, has been traditionally dominated by the Social Democrats who have been in power in the state for 46 of the past 51 years.

Merkel's party seemed keen not to appear too euphoric, insisting that regional issues played the key role.

"We're in much better shape now than we would have thought 10 weeks ago", Peter Altmaier, Merkel's chief of staff in the chancellery, told reporters.

Other reports by GizPress

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