The election in Schleswig-Holstein was seen as a test for Scholz's Social Democrat-led government.
Germany's centre-right Christian Democratic Union bloc scored a clear victory Sunday in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, according to election-night projections.
Sunday's election for the state legislature was seen as a test for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrat-led coalition government amid its handling of the war in Ukraine.
The vote gave the CDU, the party of former Chancellor Angela Merkel — which is in opposition to Scholz's government at the national level — a strong victory after a string of electoral losses.
Projections from ARD and ZDF television based on exit polls and early counting of votes put Sunday's support for the CDU at around 43%, well ahead of the other parties. Scholz's centre-left Social Democrats appeared to drop to third place behind the Greens, with projections showing them winning around 16%, compared with 17% to 18% for the Greens.
Compared with five years ago, the CDU and the Greens on Sunday made significant gains while the Social Democrats -- who came second in 2017 with 27.3% of the vote -- sustained heavy losses.
Based on the projections Sunday, incumbent governor Daniel Günther, whose CDU has led Schleswig-Holstein since 2017, governing in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats, is on course to secure another term. Germany’s northernmost state is home to approximately 2.9 million people.
In addition, projections showed the populist far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) winning only 4.6% to 4.7% of the vote, which would put them short of the 5% threshold needed to win seats in the state legislature. If that holds, it would be the first time that the AfD has fallen out of one of Germany's 16 state legislatures since its founding in 2013.
The state election came after a turbulent few months for Scholz, who took office in December at the head of a three-party coalition government with the Greens and the Free Democrats. In recent weeks, Scholz has faced criticism for his approach to the war in Ukraine.
Germany broke with tradition after Russia’s invasion to supply arms to Ukraine but has been criticized by Kyiv for perceived hesitancy and slowness in providing material.
The vote Sunday was a bright spot for the CDU, which last fall was relegated to the opposition on the national level for the first time in 16 years. It was the second of three state elections within two months that will set the political tone in Germany for the year.
In March, Scholz’s Social Democrats secured a major victory in the small western state of Saarland, which the CDU had led since 1999. The most important state vote comes on May 15 in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia.
“This is really an enormous vote of confidence,” Günther said Sunday at the CDU's election night event. “I can’t even remember the last time we got a result like this.”
Social Democrats leader Saskia Esken acknowledged the result was worse than expected but said she has higher hopes for the election in North Rhine-Westphalia.
“I have to say very clearly that we didn't expect this election result,” she told the broadcaster ZDF.