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Angela Merkel's hold on Germany tightens following key state victory

18 May 2017

On Sunday, in the key bellwether state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Social Democrats (SPD) was soundly beaten by Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in what exit polls suggest may have been SPD's worst regional result on record.

The CDU is projected to win 34.5% of votes in North Rhine-Westphalia, the country's most populous state, compared with just 30.5% for the SPD.

The industrial state has been governed by a center-left coalition of the SPD and the Greens since 2010, with the Social Democrat Hannelore Kraft serving as state premier.

With their Green coalition partners slumping to 6 per cent, the SPD was voted out in the state for only the second time in the last 50 years. It is also the home state of Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic challenger seeking to deny Merkel a fourth term in the September 24 national election- though he wasn't on the ballot Sunday.

With the FDP's double digit success and the Left Party's chances of making it into parliament slim, the CDU could form a narrow center-right majority with the FDP.

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Schulz said he has learned from Sunday's loss and signaled that's he's ready to answer critics who say he's too agreeable and lacks substance. But overshadowing Kraft's campaign for yesterday's election has been criticism of her government's handling of the 2016 New Year's Eve attacks on women in Cologne, as well a December terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market that was carried out by a one-time resident of North Rhine Westphalia.

CDU General Secretary Peter Tauber crowed over the election results at a party gathering in Berlin, saying his party had "conquered the heart" of the SPD.

But defeats in two other state elections since late March punctured the party's euphoria over his nomination.

Schulz, who's challenging Merkel on a platform of greater income equality, saw his party defeated in his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday in the last test before the national ballot.

A total of 13 million out of North Rhine-Westphalia's population of 18 million were eligible to vote in Sunday's election.

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The second victor was the charismatic, 38-year-old leader of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), Christian Lindner, his party's top candidate in the state.

"Until the general election on September 24, we have a long and stony road ahead of us", Schulz said.

The populist, anti-immigrant AfD party will now enter the NRW parliament, meaning the party is now in 13 out of Germany's 16 state parliaments. The total mileage of traffic backed up in North Rhine-Westphalia previous year stretched to 242,500 miles, or more than double the 100,625 miles recorded in 2012. The state has been ruled by Social Democrats for 46 of the last 51 years. The chancellor, meanwhile, hailed the strong victory in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) on May 14 and vowed to do "everything we can" to ensure that her party also prevails in general elections set for September 24. Home to Germany's Ruhr region of industry and coal mining, as well as several of the nation's biggest cities, North Rhine Westphalia is considered to be an SPD stronghold.

Merkel is only due to give her reaction to her party's strong win at 1100 GMT.

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