The first step towards Germany’s general election in September starts today .Roland Koch is facing the ballot box in the state of Hesse. The Christian Democrat is a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel – and a win for him is likely to boost her own chances in the federal vote. If Koch wins, he could form an alliance with the Free Democrats (FDP), paving the way for a coalition on a national level. The FDP is now his party’s preferred coalition partner, rather than the Social Democrats (SPD), with whom Merkel has shared power since the last election four years ago. But the SPD is trailing in the Hesse polls. Their candidate, newcomer Thorsten Schäfer Gümbel, is on just 24%,compared to Koch’s 41%. The vote is a re-run of a ballot held last year. Koch’s campaign was accused of being xenophobic, while infighting broke out in the SPD over whether to ally themselves with the hard left Linke party. It is a row that has spilled out onto national level – but with four state elections, an EU vote and the federal election still to come this year, it is one that the SPD will need to resolve, quickly.