Setback for Merkel’s party in German state polls

Berlin, Aug 31 (DPA) Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party suffered a stinging setback Sunday in two of three German state assembly elections, with small parties eating into the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) support.

Merkel’s federal-level ally, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) took comfort from the CDU’s losses and from its own future as an indispensable partner in state coalitions.

But it failed to take up the slack from the CDU as the Sep 27 national elections loomed. Instead, the notable gains were scored by smaller parties.

In Thuringia, the CDU vote share was projected at 31.3 to 31.7 percent, sharply down from 43.0 percent at the last poll.

SPD support in that state gained 5 percentage points to 17.9 percent, but still trailed both the CDU and the Left (27.9 percent), the party of the former communists, an ARD projection showed as vote counting continued.

Saarland, the only western state in play, gave the SPD 24.5 percent of the vote to 34.5 per cent for the CDU, according to the official result – while the Left, a party that was previously seen as a voice of eastern Germans only, won 21.3 percent.

Saarland, a state of coalmines and steel plants, was formerly SPD heartland. The gains were credited to Oskar Lafontaine, a former SPD state premier who defected to the Left Party in 2005 and is now its co-leader.

In industrialized Saxony, the CDU maintained its support (40.7 percent). The Left (20.9 per cent) overshadowed the SPD, which again won only 10 percent, level-pegging with the FDP.

CDU officials appealed to Merkel to perk up her general election campaign. So far the national campaign has been lacklustre, with no sharply delineated issues separating the SPD and CDU.

Merkel, whose national support is rated at 36 percent, said earlier she did not regard the state polls as a test.

The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) again gained seats in the Saxony state assembly, winning 5.5 percent of the vote, but that was a sharp fall from the 12 percent it won five years ago.