- Angela Merkel - elections - Germany
Merkel government to be tested in state poll
The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia is votes for its parliament Sunday in a poll widely seen as a referendum on Angela Merkel’s government. Losses for Merkel's party could weaken her position in the federal upper house of parliament.
REUTERS - Germans voted in a state election on Sunday that risks weakening Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government just months into her second term in office.
Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Free Democrat (FDP) allies must hold onto power in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) to keep her federal government’s majority in the Bundesrat upper house of parliament.
Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) for the vote in Germany’s most populous state, which is widely seen as a referendum on Merkel’s roughly six-month old government.
The poll has been eclipsed by Merkel’s decision to release billions of euros in aid to Greece, a move deeply unpopular with voters.
“The election is extremely important because it is the first vote after the federal election and the poll in this big German state is being seen as a test for her,” said Gerd Langguth, political scientist at Bonn University and biographer of Merkel.
There are some 13.5 million eligible voters in NRW and its economy is roughly the same size as those of Poland and the Czech Republic combined.
A defeat for the CDU and the FDP in the state would end their majority in the Bundesrat and cause delays in delivering policies—including tax cuts—that they agreed after last September’s federal election.
Opinion polls show the CDU and the FDP, whose alliance in NRW mirrors a similar power-sharing deal at federal level, are short of the support they need to clinch a majority.
Merkel has faced criticism from opposition parties for her handling of the Greece debt crisis after she initially resisted granting aid due to massive popular opposition to a bailout.
After backing a Greek rescue package, Merkel said last week the plan must succeed or other European countries may suffer the same fate. She has also rounded on financial market speculators for exaggerating tensions in the euro zone.
Five years ago, a defeat in NRW led then-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to call an early election that he lost to Merkel.
No one is expecting anything that dramatic this time around, but a defeat for CDU premier Juergen Ruettgers could signal a shift in the political tide in Germany, which has been moving in favour of the CDU for much of the past decade.
Anything short of a CDU-FDP win would be a blow to Merkel.
“If the CDU loses its majority with the FDP, which is to be expected, it would not be a catastrophe but it would certainly make things more complicated and difficult for the chancellor,” said Langguth.