Merkel party humiliates SPD rivals in last test before election

Claudine Rigal
Mai 17, 2017

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) claimed victory against rival Social Democrats (SPD) in North Rhine-Westphalia's state election on Sunday.

Her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) clinched 34.3 percent of the vote in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), first results showed, snatching control of the sprawling industrial region which has been a Social Democratic Party (SPD) stronghold for decades.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined campaign themes for her re-election bid in September as she seeks to harness her party's revived momentum, saying she'll help Europe's biggest economy innovate to stay competitive.

Germany's opposition SPD is nursing a stunning defeat in the state election in its North Rhine Westphalia heartland.

Palpable frustration over worsening traffic congestion and crime that has plagued the crowded northwestern state, which borders the Netherlands and Belgium, were the decisive factors behind the Social Democrats' sudden demise after the party had ruled there for 46 of the last 51 years.

Schulz, a former European Parliament president, led the SPD to a surge in the polls after his nomination in January, only to see support fizzle in regional elections.

A crestfallen Schulz described on German public TV the outcome as "a crushing defeat".

The land election in North Rhine - Westphalia called "small universal" or dress rehearsal for a vote on September 24, when Germany will elect a new Bundestag, and he then - Chancellor. He insisted, however, that the national election was still some time off. After this fourth state election loss since March, that now appears a distant dream.

Well-aware of the power of those images - a strong, assertive leader holding her own in the world - Merkel recently met with Saudi Arabia's King Salman (sans headscarf) to press him on women's rights.

North Rhine-Westphalia's state Premier Hannelore Kraft stepped down as state party chief of the SPD taking full responsibility for her party's defeat in Sunday's election.

The 55-year-old Kraft has regularly batted away pleas over the years from her party to take over as national leader from Merkel.

This gave Laschet the chance to stake out the high ground on issues such as security, terrorism and economic uncertainty.

The CDU unseated the SPD in NRW in May 2005, prompting a snap federal election.

It was not clear whether the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the CDU's preferred partners projected to win 12 per cent, had enough votes for the two allies to form a majority in the state.

Meanwhile, the Left Party (Die Linke) may fail to enter the state parliament, being on the edge of the 5% threshold.

However, polls ahead of the vote - the last test at the ballot box before Germany's national election on September 24 - now show the Social Democrats neck-and-neck with Merkel's Christian Democrats. This means that the anti-immigrant party will now be present in 13 out of Germany's 16 state parliaments.

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