Merkel challenger seeks to move past deflating state vote

Merkel challenger seeks to move past deflating state vote

Merkel challenger seeks to move past deflating state vote

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) saw off a challenge from the Social Democrats (SPD) and won nearly 41 per cent of the vote.

The "Schulz effect" has seen especially younger voters flock to the more than 150-year-old workers' party, which is now polling neck-and-neck at the national level with Merkel's conservative bloc.

The election for the state legislature in Saarland, a region of just under 1 million people on the French border that Merkel's Christian Democrats have led since 1999, is the first of three regional votes before Germany's September 24 national vote. That was up from 35.2% in 2012 and better than the 29.6% won by the Social Democrats led by Martin Schulz.

The unexpectedly strong performance in the election for the state of Saarland came as Merkel prepares to seek a fourth term in a national vote later this year.

Schulz conceded it was "not a nice evening" and that "the CDU clearly won" but insisted that "our goal is a change of federal government" this year, calling the campaign until then "a marathon, not a sprint".

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In Saarland, recent polls had indicated a narrow lead for the CDU, but there had also been predictions that a coalition between the SPD, the far-left Linke and the environmentalist Greens may emerge.

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Like federal Germany, Saarland is now governed by a "grand coalition" of Merkel's conservatives and the second-placed SPD Social Democrats.

While Schulz managed to increase support for the SPD nationwide, premier Kramp-Karrenbauer's strong popularity in Saarland secured a victory for the CDU in the tiny state bordering France.

On a separate front, the development also dims the hopes of Germany's far-right, anti-European Union politicians, who had been seen to be surging ahead of the national election. EURACTIV's partner La Tribune reports. However, the Sunday elections results showed that no such coalition is possible now.

"The people decided on stability and reliability", CDU Secretary General Peter Tauber said. The left-leaning Greens dropped out of the state legislature, falling short of the 5 percent needed to keep their seats.

However, Berlin University political scientist, Oskar Niedermayer, told ARD that Saarland is too small a state to draw direct conclusions from for the upcoming national elections.

The left party received 12.9 percent of all votes, while Germany's newcomer Alternative for Germany (AfD) received 6.2 percent of the votes.

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