[QODLink]
Europe

Merkel calls state election defeat 'painful'

German chancellor says centre-right camp has work cut out before the September polls, a day after Lower Saxony loss.
Last Modified: 21 Jan 2013 17:35

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a narrow defeat in a state poll "painful", saying that her party has to work to rustle up support before the September general election.

Merkel's ruling centre-right camp lost its decade-long hold on the northeastern state of Lower Saxony on Sunday by just one seat to the opposition Social Democrats and Greens Sunday in one of the tightest races in recent memory.

"Of course when you have been on such an emotional roller-coaster then a defeat is that much more painful," she said on Monday after huddling with her Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"We have got to ensure that we in future election campaigns get the necessary majorities together."

Lower Saxony, a vast agricultural and industrial region of eight million people, resembles a US-style swing state.

The upset left her junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), reeling after months of dismal poll numbers and criticising their leader, Philipp Roesler, the economy minister.

Resignation offer

Roesler, who is also Merkel's vice-chancellor, offered to step down after nearly two years at the helm of the FDP in favour of his main rival, Rainer Bruederle, parliamentary group leader. But the latter declined.

However, Roesler will not carry the FDP's banner into the national election in eight months' time, leaving the job of chief candidate to Bruederle.

The move was seen as Roesler outmanoeuvring his challenger with a provocative ultimatum, buying him time at least until a party congress in March when the FDP will vote on its leadership and probably saving his job.

After a tight race with broad implications for the general election, the centre-left said it aimed to use its victory to create fresh momentum for its bid to deprive Merkel of a third four-year term.

"It shows the race until September is far from over," Peter Steinbrueck, the Social Democrats' challenger to Merkel, said.

The Social Democrats and Greens also won a majority in the Bundesrat upper house of parliament which represents the states, allowing them to stop legislation from Merkel's government and launch their own draft bills.

Merkel, who campaigned hard for David McAllister, Lower Saxony premier, a half-Scot seen as a potential successor as chancellor, enjoys a strong lead in national polls due to her fierce defence of German interests in the eurozone crisis.

Pollsters' forecasts

The FDP managed to capture nearly 10 per cent in the Lower Saxony election - more than doubling many pollsters' forecasts and garnering their best result in Lower Saxony in post-war history.

But their success came at their allies' expense. The CDU scored just 36 per cent, with voters splitting their ballots under Germany's two-vote system in a bid to rescue the state coalition by helping the weak FDP.

Around 101,000 voters who backed the conservatives in 2008 plumped for the FDP this time, exit polls showed.

Pundits said the Lower Saxony win could help turn around the fledgeling campaign of Steinbrueck.

Merkel, for her part, said her CDU would now go it alone.

"It will be a general election campaign in which everyone fights for himself and his own votes," she said.

She was full of praise for the defeated McAllister, prompting speculation she might whisk him to Berlin for a senior party post and groom him for higher office.

Pundits spoke of a future "McMerkel" team.

549

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.
At one UN site alone, approximately four children below the age of five are dying each day.
Featured
Critics claim a vaguely worded secrecy law gives the Japanese government sweeping powers.
A new book looks at Himalayan nation's decades of political change and difficult transition from monarchy to democracy.
The Church of Christ built a $200m megachurch while analysts say members vote in a block.
US state is first to issue comprehensive draft regulations for the online currency, but critics say they are onerous.
Survivors of Shujayea bombardment recount horror tales amid frantic search for lost family members.
join our mailing list