German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party lost control of Lower Saxony state as the Social Democrats and Greens took a single seat majority, buoying the opposition parties eight months before federal elections.
The state election director, Ulrike Sachs, said the SPD and Greens took 69 seats in state parliament in Hanover in yesterday’s election, compared with 68 seats for Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats. A surge in support for the FDP, junior coalition partner to Merkel’s party nationally and regionally, wasn’t enough to allow CDU state Prime Minister David McAllister to remain in power. The SPD candidate, Hanover Mayor Stephan Weil, said he can set up a government with the Greens.
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The Lower Saxony vote is a blow to Merkel as she prepares to seek a third term in national elections in September with the FDP. While her CDU has record poll support nationally, backing for the FDP collapsed shortly into her second term and hasn’t recovered. The result bolsters Merkel’s SPD challenger, Peer Steinbrueck, who needs to exploit the FDP’s weakness if he is to have any hope of deposing Merkel as chancellor.
The vote underscores that the outcome of the federal elections this fall “is still open,” Carsten Brzeski, a senior economist at ING Group in Brussels said on Twitter Inc.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats took 36 percent compared with 32.6 percent for the SPD. The Greens placed third with 13.7 percent, with the Free Democrats got 9.9 percent, the preliminary official results showed.
The final result in Lower Saxony will determine whether the SPD and Greens attain a so-called constructive majority in Berlin’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which could be used to initiate legislation to challenge Merkel’s policy.
Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Philipp Roesler got a boost with his FDP taking almost double the level of support polls had suggested. The FDP nationally has polled at or below the 5 percent threshold to win parliamentary seats since March 2011, after winning 14.6 percent in 2009.
“This is a good sign for the 2013 federal election,” Roesler said in a ZDF television interview.
Christian Democratic leaders said the FDP profited from CDU supporters switching support to the pro-business FDP because of opinion polls that had showed it under the 5 percent hurdle needed to win seats.
“Many CDU voters were worried that the FDP wouldn’t be represented in parliament and so voted for them to ensure that the CDU-FDP bloc was strengthened in Lower Saxony,” Michael Grosse-Broemer, the CDU chief whip in the federal parliament, said on ZDF.
Merkel is enjoying record levels of support as voters back her handling of the crisis in the euro area more than three years after it emerged in Greece. Asked whom they would prefer as Germany’s leader, 65 percent of respondents named Merkel, a jump of 11 percentage points from a month ago, ZDF television said Jan. 11, citing a Forschungsgruppe Wahlen poll. Just 25 percent said they favored Steinbrueck, a drop of 11 points.
“It’s clear to me that the Lower Saxony SPD didn’t get any tailwind from Berlin and it’s also clear to me that I carry a certain responsibility for that,” Steinbrueck said, speaking to party members in Berlin.
Interviewed on ZDF, Steinbrueck said some of his comments in the past weeks had “created some disquiet” and that he’d try to stick to policy issues in the future. Steinbrueck was quoted in an interview as saying he wouldn’t buy a bottle of pinot grigio wine that costs less than 5 euros ($6.65).
The anti-capitalist Left Party and the Pirate Party, which campaigns for Internet freedom, were among the parties failing to cross the 5 percent threshold in Lower Saxony.
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