Merkel dealt bitter election defeat

Merkel dealt bitter election defeat

Merkel dealt bitter election defeat

Social Democratic leader Gabriel enjoys as her main rival, Merkel, is dealt blow. REUTERS Photo

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party suffered a severe defeat on May 13 in a pivotal German state vote, likely to award her main rivals a major boost in their bid to soften her austerity drive in Europe.

With 16 months to go before national elections, the snap poll in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany’s most populous state with 18 million people, is closely watched as a taste of things to come at the federal level.

While Germans nationally back Merkel and her tough stance on European belt tightening and debt reduction, voters in NRW handed her conservatives their worst-ever result in the western state. Her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won just over 26 percent of the vote, plunging from 35 percent, according to Agence France-Presse, while the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD) took 39 percent, in a district home to the Ruhr industrial heartland.

Responding to the result, CDU General Secretary Hermann Gröhe said support for Merkel’s drive for austerity and balanced budgets was “independent of this painful result, from this regional parliamentary election.”

The election came a week after Merkel’s center-right coalition lost power in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. Both results represent a further blow to Merkel after her strategy for fighting the eurozone crisis also took a hit in Greek and French elections, prompting her to warn against “growth on credit.” It also comes two days before she hosts French President-elect François Hollande, who campaigned on a pledge to renegotiate the eurozone’s fiscal pact for tighter budgetary rigor, which Merkel argues is essential to underpin the continent’s eventual recovery.

Pirates get 8% percent

The SPD has echoed calls by Hollande to place more emphasis on growth in the fiscal pact and Merkel, who needs a two-thirds majority in Parliament to ratify the fiscal pact, will therefore need opposition support.

Der Spiegel news weekly said the SPD now faces a dilemma. “If it rejects the fiscal pact and the austerity policy, it is offering Merkel a nice little campaign issue ... If it agrees with Merkel once again out of political responsibility, there is no clear distinguishing from the chancellor,” it commented online.
The Greens scored 11.5 percent while the upstart Pirate Party, which has surged lately on a platform of near-total transparency and Internet freedom, but lacks policies on many other issues including the debt crisis, entered its fourth state legislature with the support of 7.8 percent.Merkel’s pro-business coalition partners at the federal level, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) took about 8.4 percent, significantly better than the roughly 3 percent it is polling nationally.