Voting is underway in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia where Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats could suffer a potentially fatal blow.
The SPD has ruled the country’s most populous state for close to four decades but controversial labour market reforms – intended to spur growth – are making some voters switch allegiance. The state has suffered dramatically from a decline in the coal and steel industries. Almost a million people are unemployed. The Social Democrat’s candidate and current state governor Peer Steinbrueck has been rallying supporters, and disillusioned voters, who he hopes will swing his way today. His main challenger is Jurgen Ruettgers, the conservative opposition Christian democrats candidate. If, as expected, he benefits from the poll it could boost the position of its national leader Angela Merkel. Some analysts predict she could become Germany’s first female Chancellor. The vote’s outcome is being seen as a pre-2006 general election test for Schroeder’s government. Thirteen million people are eligible to vote. The result is expected later tonight.