They are putting on a brave face but it is a tough day for German leader Angela Merkel and her conservative party. It has suffered heavy losses in a regional election, dealing the Chancellor a blow ahead of next year’s national vote.
The CDU’s woes stem from a ballot in the western state of Hesse where long-serving premier Roland Koch described the result as “difficult.” He finished a whisker ahead of the centre-left Social Democrats, but was seen as the big loser, with support for him falling by 12 percentage points compared to the last state election in 2003.
Andrea Ypsilanti, a relatively unknown SPD politician nationwide, is the main beneficiary of Koch’s losses. She could now replace him, although it is still unclear what kind of coalition will take power. Uneasily sharing power nationally with the CDU, the Social Democrats are now looking ahead to next month’s local vote in Hamburg.
Elsewhere, in Lower Saxony, the CDU retained power. But, there too, support for the regional premier dropped.
One clear winner on Sunday was the Left Party, made up of ex-communists and disaffected former SPD supporters. It entered parliament in both Lower Saxony and Hesse, the first time it has done so in large western states.
Hesse is home to Germany’s financial capital, Frankfurt. On the streets of the city, one man said Koch was punished for remarks he branded racist. Backed by Merkel, Koch’s campaign on crime and immigration was denounced by critics as xenophobic.