Germany election: Further blow for Merkel in Hesse

Green politicians Tarek Al-Wazir Priska Hinz and Annalena Baerbock at an election rally in Frankfurt last week. The party is enjoying a surge in popularity in Germany

Green politicians Tarek Al-Wazir Priska Hinz and Annalena Baerbock at an election rally in Frankfurt last week. The party is enjoying a surge in popularity in Germany

Projections showed Mrs Merkel's conservatives heading for an extremely lacklustre win in the vote for the central Hesse region's state legislature.

Such results would make various regional coalitions possible, with the Greens potentially joining parties to their right or left or even, if their results are exceptionally good, having a chance to make their local leader Tarek Al-Wazir - now Bouffier's deputy - the state governor.

Supporters of the Green party celebrate after the state election in the German state of Hesse in Wiesbaden, western Germany, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018.

Sunday's blow for Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) in Hesse was the latest state poll marred by the image of the right-left "grand coalition" government limping from crisis to crisis at a federal level.

There was widespread pre-election speculation that a disastrous result for either or both parties could further destabilize the national government, prompting calls for the Social Democrats to walk out and possibly endangering Merkel's own position. But government leaders appeared keen Sunday to keep the show on the road.

Ms Nahles said yesterday she would propose a roadmap to allow the SPD to measure the progress of the ruling coalition, which has been plagued by infighting, at a mid-term review next year.

Reports claim that a growing number of SPD members feel their centre-left party is tarnished by its alliance with Merkel and would be better off rebuilding in opposition - a scenario SPD leader Andreas Nahles has resisted.

The CDU's General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer echoed Nahles' promises, stating that the coalition must identify "three concrete projects for the coming months that we implement". She didn't specify what they might be.

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'The message to the parties ruling in Berlin is: People want fewer disputes and more focus on the important issues, ' he said.

Projections for ARD and ZDF public television, based on exit polls and partial counting, gave the CDU 27-28% support and the centre-left Social Democrats about 20%. It represented the worst election result since 1950, and a loss of its absolute majority for only the second time since 1962. The environmentalists surged to 19.5 percent of the vote, up 8 percentage points since the last election five years ago and running neck-and-neck with the SPD.

The other big victor was the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered the Hesse regional assembly for the first time with 12 percent of the vote, the ARD exit poll showed.

The pro-business Free Democrats were seen winning above 7% and the Left Party around 6.5%.

The Greens' strong performance in Hesse means Bouffier will likely be able to remain state premier at the helm of a CDU/Greens government.

The SPD has suffered a string of regional defeats and last year's worst national election score since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949.

Two weeks after Jean-Claude Juncker's speech in Strasbourg triggered kick-off debates in the European Parliament about the 2019 elections, the party of Emmanuel Macron - one of the most closely watched politicians in Europe - officially launches its campaign outside France in Berlin on Saturday (29 September).

The Social Democrats only reluctantly entered Merkel's national government in March, and many are said to be dismayed by what has happened since.

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