German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition was defeated in its southwestern heartland as support for the Greens surged to a record, putting the anti-nuclear party within reach of leading the state government, projections showed.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union took 39.1 percent in today’s election in Baden-Wuerttemberg, its worst result since 1952, while its Free Democratic Party allies won 5.1 percent, ZDF television projections showed as of 7:25 p.m. That leaves the two parties short of a majority and may spell the end of the CDU’s 58-year state rule. The opposition Greens took a record 24.4 percent, while the Social Democrats, which said they’ll rule with the Greens, won 23 percent.
The result in Baden-Wuerttemberg may deliver Germany’s first Green state prime minister at the head of a coalition with the SPD. That would grant the Greens sway over policy affecting a state whose economy is bigger than Belgium and Luxembourg combined, and hand them control of Germany’s third-biggest utility, EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG, which operates four nuclear plants. Both Greens and SPD oppose atomic power.
“There won’t just be a changing of the guard in Baden-Wuerttemberg, there will be a change of politics,” Greens national co-leader Claudia Roth told reporters in Berlin. It will be “a historic watershed in 31 years of Green history when we vote in a Green state premier” in the state. “Let the future begin.”
In a second election in the neighboring state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the ruling Social Democrats took 36 percent, forcing them to search for a coalition partner after governing alone. While Merkel’s CDU pushed the SPD close, taking 35.3 percent, their Free Democratic allies, with 3.9 percent, failed to retain seats in the state parliament in Mainz, the projections showed. The Greens took 15.3 percent, triple their tally at the last election in 2006, putting them in a position to join the SPD in government.
The twin elections, the biggest electoral test so far of Merkel’s second-term government, are the latest in a run of seven state ballots this year that offer voters the chance to rate her policies from stemming Europe’s debt turmoil to her response to war in Libya and Japan’s atomic crisis.
“There was a lot of uncertainty and angst due to the images from Japan,” CDU federal Education Minister Annette Schavan said on ZDF television. “Energy was an ever more present theme in the elections and we failed to show the voters that our energy program” is “sustainable.”
Baden-Wuerttemberg, which boasts Germany’s lowest unemployment and is home to world-leading companies such as Porsche AG, Daimler AG and SAP AG, has been ruled by Merkel’s party uninterrupted since 1953.
Defeat for the CDU in the state, in Germany’s southwestern corner bordering Switzerland and France, would put Merkel’s government under “severe pressure,” Juergen Michels, an economist at Citigroup Inc. in London, said in a March 25 note. “A break-up of the coalition cannot be ruled out.”
In the first of this year’s state elections, last month Merkel’s party suffered its worst defeat since World War II in Hamburg, then dropped votes in the second ballot, on March 20 in Saxony-Anhalt, as the Green vote unexpectedly doubled.
Nationally, support for the Greens has surged and the CDU declined since Merkel, reacting to the disaster in Japan, closed the seven oldest German reactors for three months and suspended an extension of reactor lifespans she pushed through last year pending safety checks.
Local Issues ‘Overshadowed’
“Everything was overshadowed by the Japan crisis, the war in Libya and the euro debate,” said federal Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle, who chairs the Free Democratic Party in Rhineland-Palatinate. “Local issues didn’t make a dent.”
The Greens gained support in Baden-Wuerttemberg last year as they tapped into public opposition to a high-speed rail project known as Stuttgart 21 that is backed by Merkel and the CDU state premier, Stefan Mappus.
Under Mappus, the state government bought a 45.01 percent stake in utility EnBW from Electricite de France SA for 4.7 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in February. The state now controls 92.3 percent of the voting rights in the company, whose four atomic plants are in Baden-Wuerttemberg.
“Today, the final decision was made on ending nuclear power in Germany,” Sigmar Gabriel, national chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party, said on ZDF.
“Merkel’s coalition in Berlin must take a huge slice of the blame” after voters registered their “complete rejection of Merkel’s nuclear policy and her leadership in what is clearly a crisis that she and her partners massively underestimated,” Hans-Juergen Hoffmann, head of the Psephos polling company, said by phone. “That a booming economy in the land of Bosch, Daimler and Porsche played a backseat role in the region’s election is a turning point in the fortunes of the federal coalition.”
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