Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Setback for Merkel's Party Seen as Electoral Harbinger

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Setback for Merkel's Party Seen as Electoral Harbinger

Article excerpt

The outcome of the vote in Schleswig-Holstein was being viewed as setting the tone for the election next week in the most populous of Germany's 16 states, North Rhine-Westphalia.

Voters in Germany's northernmost state have ousted their center- right government of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats in balloting that failed to produce a clear winner.

The outcome Sunday in Schleswig-Holstein was viewed as setting the tone for the election next week in the most populous of Germany's 16 states, North Rhine-Westphalia. It was also seen as a foreshadowing of the general elections that Ms. Merkel's coalition faces in 2013.

Although Ms. Merkel's Christian Democrats emerged as the strongest party, winning 30.8 percent of the vote, according to preliminary official returns released Monday by election officials in Schleswig-Holstein, there appeared little chance that they could find enough partners to form a government.

That would open up the chance for the opposition Social Democrats, which won 30.4 percent of the vote, to build a three-way coalition with the Greens and a smaller minority party.

"This is a very bad thing for the Christian Democrats," said Joachim Krause, a political science professor at the University of Kiel in Schleswig-Holstein, said Monday. "Because it continues a trend that shows the attraction of the party, and the chancellor, is fading."

The loss in Schleswig-Holstein is the latest setback for the constellation that governs in Berlin. That coalition will next be put to the test in the bellwether state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Although the Christian Democrats won a clear mandate last month in tiny, industrial Saarland, they were defeated in six states in 2011, including Hamburg, the country's richest state, and their traditional stronghold, Baden-Wurttemberg.

The Free Democrats earned 8.2 percent of the vote in Schleswig- Holstein, enough to guarantee that they remain in the state Parliament, but a significant drop from the 14 percent they garnered in 2009. Still, the outcome can be viewed as a turnaround for a party that has seen its popularity plummet after being voted out in five of the last six regional ballots. …

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