Germany’s Social Democratic Party, SPD, suffered a stunning defeat in the state election of its North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) stronghold on Sunday.
The SPD lost 7% of their vote, winning only 31.2 per cent as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU soared to 33 %. The result is a boost for Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term in office at September’s general election.
The election in NRW, Germany’s most populous state with 18 million people, is seen as an important test of national mood ahead of Germany’s federal election in September.
The SPD was punished by voters for traffic congestion, an under-performing schools sector and high unemployment in the state, say analysts.
“Dear friends. Today is a good day for North Rhine-Westphalia. We had two goals in this election, to stop red-green and become strongest political power. We achieved both, I thank everyone for their commitment during the last days,” said Armin Laschet, CDU’s leader in NRW who will most likely become the next state premier.
The SPD had high hopes they could challenge the CDU for federal power in September. After this fourth state election loss since March, that now appears a distant dream.
“This is a difficult day for the Social Democrats, a difficult day for me personally, as well. I come from the state in which we took a really stinging defeat today. We’ve lost an important state election,” said a disappointed Martin Schultz, who only recently quit the European Parliament vice-presidency so he could lead the SPD in the upcoming election battle.
For NRW’s premier, Hannelore Kraft, the loss was too much, and she resigned as SPD chief in the state.
The Free Democratic Party (FDP), looking to re-enter the German parliament at the general election in September, came in third at the NRW poll, taking 12.6 per cent of the vote, a significant increase compared to 2012. The Green party, currently the junior coalition partner to the SPD, took a massive hit, dropping down to 6.4%.
The populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will also enter state’s parliament for the first time, picking up 7.4 %. The anti-immigrant party now sits in 13 out of Germany’s 16 state parliaments. The Left Party, meanwhile, failed to clear the 5-per cent hurdle to enter the state parliament, with results showing the party at 4.9 per cent.