Germany: Merkel's CDU wins regional elections in most populous state

An election in Germany's most populous state is serving as a prelude to September's national vote and could give conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel new momentum in her quest for a fourth term - or offer her centre -left challenger some relief.

German media is asking whether Merkel has already dealt a knock-out blow to her opposition party, the Social Democrat party (SPD), in the run-up to the country's national election.

Her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) clinched 34.3 percent of the vote in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), first results showed, snatching control of the sprawling industrial region which has been a Social Democratic Party (SPD) stronghold for decades.

FDP leader Christian Lindner seized on the party's 12.1 percent vote as signalling its comeback after the party was bounced out of the federal Parliament in Berlin following the last national poll in 2013.

CDU won 33 percent of the vote, gaining around 6 percentage points since the last election, while the SPD won about 31.5 percent, having lost nearly 8 percent point since 2012. At the national level, the SPD is now trailing the CDU and its Bavaria-based Christian Social Union sister party by about 10 percentage points.

The CDU appeared to have been able to cash in on local anger over issues including security, crime, education, immigration, relatively high unemployment and traffic jams.

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

Tauber noted that the main reasons behind the victory of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia was the strategy demonstrated by the CDU team in the most important areas for the region, such as "internal security, erroneous infrastructure and educational policy".

The CDU won 33 per cent, up from 26.3 per cent in 2012, according to projections on public broadcaster ARD.

Martin Schulz, the SPD candidate looking to unseat Merkel in the upcoming national election in September, cast his vote in his hometown of Würselen.

Meanwhile, the Left Party (Die Linke) may fail to enter the state parliament, being on the edge of the 5% threshold. "It's sad we lost so many districts".

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. They gave the Greens, the junior coalition partner in the state government, only 6%.

The result from North Rhine-Westphalia, which follows a similar result last week in Schleswig-Holstein, has boosted the party's fighting spirits and, since it's currently polling at 7 percent nationally, there is now hope it may return to the Bundestag in the fall.

The March victory prompted President Trump to place a congratulatory call to Merkel just nine days after they had talked about the state elections at the White House.

The AfD is now represented in 13 states across Germany. The CDU only ruled in NRW for five years during that half century, from 2005 until 2010.

  • Joey Payne