Germany’s ruling CDU has suffered surprise and severe losses in the western state of Hesse.
Although he finished a whisker ahead of his Social Democrat rival, long-ruling premier Roland Koch was seen as the big loser after support for him dropped by 12 percent since the last election.
His debacle is bad news for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who backed his campaign based on crime and immigration, which was denounced by critics as xenophobic.
It is unclear whether Koch will be able to stay in power with such a slim majority. Both the conservatives and the Social Democrats will now have to start haggling with potential partners in what analysts believe could take weeks.
At the Social Democrats’ headquarters, it was time for celebrations. Their candidate Andrea Ypsilanti is a little-known figure on the political scene. For the SPD, too, difficult talks lie ahead, particularly as their traditional partners, the Greens, lost nine seats in the ballot.
Meanwhile, in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony, CDU prime minister Christian Wulff retained power in a coalition with the liberal Free Democrats, although he, too, saw his support drop.
And, as in Hesse, the Left party, a far-left grouping of ex-communists and SPD members, won enough votes to enter parliament.