German state vote curbs Merkel`s power

Voters in Germany`s most populous state dealt Chancellor Angela Merkel a painful setback on Sunday.

Berlin: Voters in Germany`s most populous state dealt Chancellor Angela Merkel a painful setback on Sunday, erasing her government`s majority in the upper house of Parliament and curbing its power after a stumbling start and criticism over the Greek debt crisis.

Merkel`s centre-right alliance was voted out of power in a state election in North Rhine-Westphalia, a region of some 18 million people that includes Cologne and the industrial Ruhr area. It was the first electoral test since she started her second term in October.

"This is of course a warning shot for the governing parties, and the people should know that it has been heard," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the vice chancellor and leader of the Free Democrats, Merkel`s junior coalition partner. "We must make an effort to win back lost trust."

Merkel`s conservative Christian Democrats won 34.6 percent of Sunday`s vote, 10 points down on five years ago and their worst showing in the state since World War II, and the Free Democrats 6.7 percent, final results showed.

The coalition, whose makeup mirrors that of the national government, finished well short of a majority in the state legislature.

The main opposition Social Democrats won 34.5 percent and the Greens 12.1 percent. A hard-left rival, the Left Party, won 5.6 percent.

It wasn`t immediately clear who would run North Rhine-Westphalia and whether conservative Juergen Ruettgers could cling onto the governor`s office in Duesseldorf.

The Social Democrats fell just short of a majority to govern along with the Greens. They could try to form a previously untried alliance with the Left Party or a "grand coalition" with the conservatives.

Merkel will likely have a harder time running Germany — Europe`s biggest economy — without a majority in the upper house, which represents Germany`s 16 states and must approve major legislation.

Bureau Report

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