German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats look set to lose control of one of their main strongholds in a regional election on Sunday. Polls are predicting victory for the opposition Christian Democrats in the vote in the state of North Rhine Westphalia. That would be a very troubling outcome for the government with a general election expected in the next 18 months.
The election is seen as a referendum on the government’s performance. It has pushed through tough economic and welfare reforms but they have yet to translate into higher growth and lower unemployment.
Those concerns are felt no more strongly than in this state which is the country’s historical industrial heartland. Years of decline have left more than a million out of work. While surveys have consistently put the CDU in the lead the Social Democrats have begun gaining ground recently.
Analysts say the opposition’s candidate, Jürgen Rüttgers, lacks the personal popularity of his SPD rival, Peer Steinbrück. A win for the Christian Democrats would tighten their grip on the upper house of the federal parliament, the Bundesrat. However they would still be short of the two-thirds majority needed to defeat government bills.