Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) have suffered a crushing defeat in an exceptional state election.
The region of North Rhine-Westphalia – Germany’s most populated state – has swung towards the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), who won almost 39 per cent of Sunday’s vote, according to early projections.
The CDU, represented by Merkel’s Environment Minister Norbert Rottgen won just 26 per cent.
“This election day today is a bitter day for the party, for myself and for our supporters. We have clearly been defeated,” said Rottgen.
The state, which includes the cities of Cologne, Dortmund and Dusseldorf, backed a plan by the Social Democrats to slow down public sector cuts in the region, despite Conservative rhetoric about levels of debt.
Following the win, SPD candidate Hannelore Kraft told supporters: “Dear friends, dear colleagues. It looks like we have achieved all of our election goals – a strong SPD, and we will continue with a red-green coalition.”
The Social Democrats and the Green party have run a minority state government for the past two years. Sunday’s win should give them a majority (120 seats out of 221 in parliament) and may send a warning about the extent of austerity to Merkel ahead of next year’s federal election.