Angela Merkel's party wins vote in heartland of rivals in Germany

Marco Green
May 15, 2017

Kraft, whose name means "strength" in German, is fighting to hold onto power in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), which votes on Sunday in a poll that will serve as a barometer of popular opinion before the September 24 national election.

(Oliver Berg/dpa via AP).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) delivered a crushing blow to her centre-left rivals in a bellwether state election on Sunday.

He told Politico the issue of security is the main concern for the majority of voters in the state, adding: "It has quite gotten out of hand in North Rhine-Westphalia".

"We are going into the national elections with a lot of confidence", said lawmaker Michael Grosse-Broemer, who heads the CDU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, noting that the latest win gave the party an extra boost.

"This is a hard day for the Social Democrats, a hard day for me personally as well", Schulz, who wasn't on the ballot Sunday, told supporters in Berlin.

Projections based on partial counting, showed the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) beating the Social Democrats by about 34% to a little over 30.5%. "I come from the state in which we took a really stinging defeat today".

He went on to blame the regional SPD government and, in particular, state premier Hannelore Kraft and her interior minister Ralf Jäger, for not effectively combatting the crime wave. Now Kraft is struggling just to stay on as a regional leader and hopes of her party unseating the chancellor are fading fast.

But he urged the party to concentrate on the national election. "We're the party that cares", she said.

The vote delivers fresh momentum as she gears up to make her bid for a fourth term as leader of Europe's biggest economy in September's national election.

With much at stake four months before national elections, both Merkel and Schulz are pounding the streets in NRW where 18 million people live, including 4.2 million of migrant origin.

The pressure is on the Social Democrats, led by challenger Martin Schulz, in the election Sunday for the state legislature in North Rhine-Westphalia.

North-Rhine Westphalia is Germany's most populous state, and made global headlines in 2016 following reports of a mass assault of women during New Year's Eve in Cologne.

Her party had already scored victories in two other recent state elections - the small industrial state of Saarland and the northern coastal region of Schleswig Holstein.

It is home to 17.9 million people, almost a quarter of Germany's population, and is also the home state of Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic challenger seeking to deny Mrs Merkel a fourth term in the national election on September 24.

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.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the media during a joint press conference as part of a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, May 11, 2017.

The SPD finds itself in this tight race even though Kraft, a tram driver's daughter, enjoys more personal popularity than her conservative challenger Armin Laschet, a former journalist and son of a mining foreman. They gave the Greens, the junior coalition partners in the outgoing state government, only 6%.

Kraft's coalition partners, the Greens, are polling badly and chances of their alliance keeping its majority look poor.

FDP leader Christian Lindner seized on the party's vote returns - at 12.6% in preliminary results - as signalling its comeback after the party was bounced out of the federal parliament in Berlin following the last national poll in 2013.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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