Merkel party in German state poll disaster

27th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives lost power in their German heartland after nearly six decades, initial results showed Sunday, with the Greens likely to lead their first state government.

Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) have ruled Baden-Wuerttemberg since 1953, but anger over her nuclear policy in light of the Japan crisis as well as decisions on Libya and the euro angered voters in the run-up to the poll.

The opposition Greens claimed about 25 percent of the vote and were likely to form a coalition with the Social Democrats, who garnered about 23 percent in the rich state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, according to preliminary results released on public television.

The online service of Der Spiegel called the outcome a "sensation".

They edged out Merkel's party and their junior partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), who look set to claim around 43 percent between them.

"It's a dream come true... we could never have dreamed of a result like this a few days ago," said Franz Untersteller, a Green party spokesman.

The result in the state bordering France and Switzerland marked a debacle for Merkel, 56, after drubbings in North Rhine-Westphalia in May and Hamburg in February, with three more state polls to come this year.

The Greens, riding a wave of anti-nuclear sentiment, looked poised to lead their first coalition at the state level in Germany.

And in a further triumph, gains for the Greens in another election in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate appeared to force the Social Democrats to cede their absolute majority and join them in a coalition.

Meanwhile the pro-business FDP appeared to have failed to clear the five-percent hurdle for representation in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The outcome will increase the pressure on the already embattled Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the FDP leader, although analysts said Merkel's coalition was expected to survive.

But beyond a crushing blow to morale in Berlin, a defeat will make it even harder for Merkel to pass legislation in the Bundesrat upper house and likely prompt fresh calls for her to shore up her rightist credentials.

Campaigning in the state was dominated by the nuclear catastrophe in Japan, where officials Sunday discovered high radiation levels in water leaked from a stricken reactor at the Fukushima plant.

Calling Japan's crisis a "turning point", Merkel suspended for three months an earlier decision to extend the lifetime of Germany's nuclear reactors, four of which are based in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

She also temporarily shut off the country's seven oldest reactors pending a safety review.

Nuclear power is unpopular in Germany, but polls indicated that voters saw Merkel's zigzagging as an electoral ploy: it has cost her support while boosting the anti-nuclear Green party.

An Emnid poll Sunday in the Bild am Sonntag suggested the Greens were flying high at a national level, gaining two percentage points to 20 percent.

The CDU was unchanged at 34 percent but the FDP fell to four percent.

Adding to the pressure, tens of thousands of Germans hit the streets Saturday in four major cities to protest the government's nuclear policy. Organisers said as many as 250,000 took part.

In addition to the nuclear climb-down, conservatives have frowned on Berlin's abstention from a UN Security Council vote to create a no-fly zone in Libya, in a historic break with Western allies.

Critics saw the move as another sign of pandering, this time to a strong pacifist streak in the German electorate.

Finally, the media savaged Merkel for agreeing at an EU summit Thursday to commit to a giant new eurozone rescue fund.

Some 10.8 million people were eligible to vote in the two states.

© 2011 AFP

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