Merkel's party suffers setback in election warm-up
The results, largely expected, seemed unlikely to knock Merkel off course in her drive to win a second term in the September 27 vote, with the CDU still enjoying around a 15-point lead ahead of the rival Social Democrats in national opinion polls.
Berlin -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party suffered a setback Sunday a month before general elections, with preliminary results indicating it will lose control in two states.
Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) held onto power in the eastern state of Saxony but appeared to see its ruling majorities slip away in neighbouring Thuringia and Saarland on the French border.
But the results, largely expected, seemed unlikely to knock Merkel off course in her drive to win a second term in the September 27 vote, with the CDU still enjoying around a 15-point lead ahead of the rival Social Democrats in national opinion polls.
An overwhelming 87 percent of Germans expect Merkel to win, according to a new survey from pollsters Emnid published on Sunday.
Some 6.2 million voters were eligible to cast ballots in the state elections Sunday.
Initial results on public television showed the CDU's share of the vote falling by more than 10 percentage points in both Thuringia and Saarland, where the state premiers are both currently from the CDU.
In Saxony, the CDU's share of the vote was little changed at about 41 percent.
Because of Germany's complex coalition arithmetic, it could take several weeks until it is clear which alliances will rule Thuringia and Saarland.
The CDU, however, failed in its attempt to achieve a governing majority with its partner of choice, the pro-business Free Democrats.
The Social Democrats' (SPD) candidate, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, expressed confidence that the weekend elections would help turn the tide in his favour.
"One thing is sure -- this country does not want black-yellow," he told cheering supporters, referring to the party colours for Merkel's conservatives and the Free Democrats.
"What does this election night mean for the national election? Those who said that the election was already decided have made a big mistake."
CDU general secretary Ronald Pofalla acknowledged disappointment at the elections' outcome but said the Social Democrats would gain no momentum from them for the national poll.
"The results from the state elections have both their bright and dark spots from the point of view of the CDU," Pofalla said.
"We were the strongest party in all three states and left the SPD behind us in all three. We remain the only people's party in Germany."
The state polls came at the end of a tough week for Merkel, marked by turmoil over the future of automaker Opel, sniping between her conservatives and the Free Democrats, and a flap over a dinner she held for Germany's top banker.
The Social Democrats may now be able to form coalitions in Thuringia and Saarland with the Greens and the far-left Die Linke, a relatively new party comprised of disaffected SPD members and former East German communists.
Such "red-red" coalitions are common in the east of the reunited country but have been taboo in the west, where many see Die Linke as too radical and tainted by its historical links with the party that built the Berlin Wall.
Saarland would be the first western state to see such a governing alliance.
Merkel, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, warned in regional campaign appearances against the rise of Die Linke as Germany marks 20 years since the Wall's collapse.
Meanwhile, the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party, which stunned the country by scoring 9.2 percent in Saxony in 2004, appeared to manage for the first time to be re-elected to a state parliament by just clearing the five-percent hurdle required for seats.