Ailing Merkel bloc loses upper house with state vote

14th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Germany's most populous state elected a left-leaning government Wednesday, sealing embattled Chancellor Angela Merkel's bitter loss of the upper house of parliament.

The election of a minority government of Social Democrats and Greens in the legislature of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) in western Germany follows a crushing loss by Merkel's conservative bloc in a May poll.

Social Democrat Hannelore Kraft, 49, won the election Wednesday as next state premier with the votes of 90 deputies, versus 80 against her and 11 abstentions.

Merkel lashed out at Kraft in a newspaper interview, saying she had pledged to form a stable government in NRW, home to the Ruhr industrial heartland, but only managed to cobble together a minority coalition.

"You cannot trust a government like that," Merkel told Wednesday's edition of the Rheinische Post.

Merkel brushed aside fears of gridlock in Berlin now that her conservative government has lost its majority in the Bundesrat upper house, in which Germany's 16 states are represented.

She said "important legislation" such as a 80-billion-euro (101-billion-dollar) austerity drive to 2014 and a health care reform package would pass because they do not need Bundesrat approval.

On other issues on which the upper house must give its blessing, such as a bid to extend the life of Germany's nuclear power plants, Merkel said she would reach out to state governments to hammer out a compromise.

Incessant squabbling over a range of policy issues including tax and health care reform have marred Merkel's nine-month-old government of Christian Democrats and pro-business Free Democrats, costing it crucial poll support.

© 2010 AFP

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