Election in Germany's most populous state could boost Merkel

Election in Germany's most populous state could boost Merkel

Election in Germany's most populous state could boost Merkel

The Christian Democratic Union's victory in North Rhine-Westphalia, home to more than a fifth of German voters, is a resounding confirmation for Merkel, 62.

The SPD's defeat in the three state elections is a crushing blow to its national leader, the former European Parliament president Martin Schulz. Many believe the results indicate Merkel will cruise toward a fourth term in office as SPD has slipped in polls after holding the lead in February.

"Merkel has proved it to all them again: to all the naggers and doubters, all the nervous lads from her own ranks, who - after the refugee crisis and the electoral defeats a year ago - already predicted the Union's decline".

The SPD had already suffered two setbacks since Schulz took over, with the CDU scoring strong victories in the small states of Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein.

Written off past year for her open-border stance on refugees, Merkel is clawing back when it counts. Ms. Kraft announced that she was stepping down as the Social Democrats' regional leader.

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

Armin Laschet, top candidate of the Christian Democratic Union, celebrates after the state election in the western German state of Northrhine-Westphalia in Duesseldorf, Germany, Sunday, May 14, 2017.

The liberal Free Democrats, the CDU's preferred coalition partners, have bounced back to win nearly 13 per cent in NRW where the two allies are expected to have enough seats in the regional parliament to muster a majority.

Merkel stood firm in the face of heated criticism at home and overseas for opening Germany's borders in 2015 to more than one million mainly Muslim asylum seekers, a measure that hurt her popularity and contributed to the rise of the nationalist party Alternative for Germany (AfD). This means that the anti-immigrant party will now be present in 13 out of Germany's 16 state parliaments.

Voters were choosing candidates for the state legislature, which may now change from its current SPD-Greens coalition.

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The Left Party, meanwhile, failed to clear the 5-percent hurdle to enter the state parliament, with results showing the party at 4.9 percent.

"We are going into the national elections with a lot of confidence", said lawmaker Michael Grosse-Broemer, who heads the CDU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, noting that the latest win gave the party an extra boost.

Schulz defiantly asserted that the SPD is a party that knows how to fight back and noted, "The federal elections are still a long way off".

Voter turnout was markedly higher than five years prior, officials said, with 65.2 percent turning out to cast their ballots.

Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats have toppled the Social Democrats from their traditional stronghold in North Rhine-Westphalia.

North Rhine-Westphalia 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.

"This was a committed election, but it wasn't enough".

"This is a hard day for the Social Democrats, a hard day for me personally as well", Mr Schulz, who was not on the ballot on Sunday, told supporters in Berlin. "I take personal responsibility for this defeat.", she said.

"We achieved both, I thank everyone for their commitment during the last days", said the CDU's victor, Armin Laschet. In the past, the balance of political forces in North Rhine - Westphalia has become a model for the Central government.

The region is Germany's most populous and has been led by the center-left Social Democrats for all but five years since 1966.

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