Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats appeared despondent and shocked after suffering their worst defeat in decades in an election in Germany’s most populous state.
The CDU, represented by Merkel’s Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, won just 26 per cent.
The results in North Rhine-Westphalia showed the region had swung towards the centre-left Social Democrats who took over 39 per cent of the vote.
Campaigning on a pledge to slow down public sector cuts, the SPD have enough to form a stable majority with the Greens who emerged with over 11 per cent.
SPD candidate Hannelore Kraft told supporters:
“The SPD throughout the whole country is happy with us for sending a clear signal to Berlin.”
The disastrous results for Merkel leave her vulnerable at a time when a backlash against her insistence on fiscal discipline is building across Europe.
Shortly after the evident plunge in conservative support, France’s new president, Socialist Francois Hollande, is due to visit Berlin after he is sworn in on Tuesday. He is leading the calls for Merkel to shift away from austerity and place more emphasis on growth-orientated measures in Europe.
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