Merkel's CDU suffers setback in two German state elections
The results were ambiguous for the Social Democrats whose support fell to its lowest level ever in Lower Saxony.
Berlin (dpa) - Voters in the two western German states of Hesse and Lower Saxony turned away from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in key state elections Sunday.
But the result was ambiguous for Germany's other main party, the Social Democrats (SPD), whose support surged in Hesse but fell to its lowest level ever in Lower Saxony.
A clear winner was the Left Party, which secured 7 percent in Lower Saxony, entering the parliament there for the first time, while in Hesse it was close to clearing the 5-per-cent hurdle required to be allocated seats.
Observers said the CDU would be forced to re-evaluate its tactics, particularly the aggressive campaign run by Roland Koch, the CDU premier of Hesse since 1999.
Here the CDU suffered the more serious setback, with the final outcome remaining unclear hours after the polls closed at 18:00 pm.
In neighbouring Lower Saxony, the CDU also saw a decline in support, although by a lower margin, and is to continue in government with its liberal coalition partner, the FDP.
In Hesse, the Social Democrats (SPD) secured around 37 percent of the vote, one percentage point ahead of the CDU but were short of a coalition majority with their preferred partner, the Greens, on 8 percent.
CDU Premier Koch had run a divisive campaign highlighting crime committed by young foreigners, polarizing the electorate, while his SPD challenger, Andrea Ypsilanti, concentrated on the traditional SPD themes of low wages, education and the integration of minorities.
SPD national leader Kurt Beck said there could be "no cooperation" with the Left, repeating what Ypsilanti had said during the campaign.
Some 10.5 million were eligible to vote in the two elections. Turnout was put at around 65 percent in Hesse and a low 58 percent in Lower Saxony.
The next state elections are scheduled for Feb. 24 in the city-state of Hamburg, where the ruling CDU is currently leading in the polls. The next federal elections must take place by September 2009.