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Politics

Merkel's coalition analyzes key German state election loss

The setback for Chancellor Merkel's conservative coalition in a key state election has major repercussions. There's been a heated debate over the political future of Vice Chancellor and Economics Minister Philipp Rösler.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s vice chancellor and economics minister, Philipp Rösler, has reportedly been encouraged to face the consequences from the election setback of the ruling coalition in Lower Saxony.

During a closed door meeting of leaders of by his Liberal Free Democrat (FDP) party he agreed that his inner party rival, 67-year old Rainer Brüderle (pictured left above with Rösler) should become the top candidate for general elections later this year.

Rösler had recently been held responsible for the FDP’s dramatic fall in opinion polls.

The FDP, which is the junior coalition partner also in Chancellor Merkel’s government in Berlin had seen its support reduced below the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament in recent opinion polls.

Then the party won a surprisingly strong 9.9 percent in Sunday’s vote in Lower Saxony. This was quickly attributed to massive support from Christian Democrat (CDU) voters keen to see the incumbent conservative coalition continue.

Tight race in Lower Saxony

Preliminary official results, however, give the Social Democrat SPD and Greens a total of 69 seats in the state legislature, compared to 68 for the coalition of the FDP and conservative CDU, which remains the largest single party in the state at 36 percent.

Lower Saxony: after the elections

The center-left Social Democrats' (SPD) candidate Stephan Weil is to take over as premier in Lower Saxony, a major agricultural and industrial region. His party is embarking on coalition talks with the Green Party, which won a record 13.7 percent.

The outgoing mayor of the state capital, Hanover, said that a majority of one seat was sufficient to form a stable coalition and that "as things stand, this is my intention."

"Yesterday was a good day for Lower Saxony and a good day for the SPD," said SPD party chairman Sigmar Gabriel on Monday. He added that voters had made clear that they wanted a fundamental policy change by making it possible that for the fifth time a CDU premier would be replaced by one from the SPD.

Big impact on national level

The parties in Merkel's federal coalition have now lost control of five states in elections since 2009.

Sunday’s state election gives the center-left a stronger majority in the Bundesrat upper house of parliament, which means the opposition to Merkel can block major legislation.

 "I assume it won't be possible to push anything through the Bundesrat that the SPD doesn't want," CDU floor leader in the Bundestag Volker Kauder admitted in an interview with German public television on Monday morning.

Political analysts say the SPD’s victory in Lower Saxony grants a reprieve to their candidate for chancellor Peer Steinbrück.

Steinbrück, a former finance minister in Merkel's 2005-09 "grand coalition" government, was anointed by the SPD as its chancellor candidate late last year. His campaign got off to a bad start when he made headlines for accepting more than 1 million euros in speaking fees over the last three years. Then he complained that the chancellor's salary is too low, which triggered criticism that he was out of touch with the SPD’s working class voter base.

In a first statement after the polls had closed in Lower Saxony on Sunday Steinbrück admitted he had been of little help to his party in the key poll.

"The Social Democrats did not have tailwinds from Berlin," he said. "I share a significant part of the responsibility."

The state election in Bavaria in early September will be the last test before the general election on September 22, in which chancellor Merkel is widely expected to win a third term.

rg/dr (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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