State election result won't affect coalition, Merkel says

28th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that her broad coalition would continue to work together despite losses suffered by her Christian Democrats (CDU) in two state elections.

28th January 2008

Berlin (dpa) - Merkel said her government with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) would carry on its search for political solutions that would lead to "more jobs and prosperity for all."

She was speaking a day after the CDU lost its absolute majority in the state of Hesse where incumbent Premier Roland Koch fought a controversial campaign highlighting crime committed by young foreigners.

Support for the CDU eroded by 4 per cent in Lower Saxony, but Premier Christian Wulff was able to retain power in a coalition with the business-oriented Free Democrats.

Merkel described the setback in Hesse as "painful," but said the CDU remained the strongest party in the state and would enter into talks about forming a coalition.

SPD leader Kurt Beck said the result in Hesse showed that a large number of voters in the state "no longer wanted to have Roland Koch as head of their government."

In Hesse, the CDU gained 36.8 per cent of the vote, leaving it with a wafer-thin 0.1 per cent victory over the SPD, although both parties were tied on 42 seats each in the 110-member legislature.

Neither the CDU and its preferred coalition partner, the FDP, nor the SPD with the Greens as a junior partner were in a position to form a government.

With the SPD ruling out a coalition including the minority Left Party, the state faced a protracted period of political horse-trading that analysts said could last for weeks.

A clear winner was the Left Party, which secured 7 per cent in Lower Saxony, entering the state parliament for the first time. In Hesse, the party just cleared the 5-per-cent hurdle to gain parliamentary representation.

The Left, made up of former East German communists and a far-left SPD splinter group, is now represented in the legislatures of nine of Germany's 16 federal states.

Although support for the Social Democrats surged in Hesse, it fell to its lowest level ever in Lower Saxony where the result strengthened Wulff's position as a potential challenger to Merkel for the CDU leadership.

Koch had run a campaign polarizing the electorate, while his SPD challenger, Andrea Ypsilanti, concentrated on the traditional SPD themes of low wages, education and integration of minorities.

Analysts were united in seeing the CDU's decline in Hesse as a severe setback for the party nationally ahead of the next federal elections must take place by September 2009.

The next state elections are scheduled for February 24 in the city-state of Hamburg, where the ruling CDU is currently leading in the polls.

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