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Conservatives' Loss in German State Election Is Blow to Merkel

15 Oct 2017 6:29 pm
By Andrea Thomas 

BERLIN -- Angela Merkel's conservative party lost in state elections Sunday, marking a setback for the German chancellor ahead of this week's coalition-formation talks, according to early estimates.

Ms. Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats won 34.3% in the western state of Lower Saxony, placing second behind the left-leaning Social Democrats, according to estimates by public-sector broadcaster ZDF based on exit polls and initial results.

State elections have their own political dynamic and are often decided by local factors. But the vote is unlikely to soothe concerns among the conservatives after a lackluster victory at last month's general election that saw them score their worst result since 1949.

National polls published by Emnid institute earlier Sunday put the conservatives at 31% support nationally, the lowest in six years. The institute had polled 1,960 people between Oct. 5 and Oct. 11 for Bild am Sonntag Sunday paper.

"The migration crisis is the reason," said Tilman Mayer, professor of political science at Bonn University. "Ms. Merkel is no longer undisputed...people get nervous about her future."

The nationalist Alternative for Germany, which did unexpectedly well at the national election, securing representation in parliament for the first time, didn't repeat its performance on Sunday, winning just 6%. The party has long been weaker in Lower Saxony than in some eastern German states, and it also had made recent headlines with intra-aprty fights.

The state election ends a nearly monthlong political hiatus since the general election. Ms. Merkel had refused to start negotiations on forming a new national coalition until the Lower Saxony election had been wrapped up. She will now meet her potential partners, the pro-business Free Democrats and the Greens for initial talks Wednesday in Berlin.

Coalition-building negotiations are a lengthy process in Germany, but analysts have warned the talks this year could stretch even longer -- possibly into the new year -- because the parties at the table are at odds on a wide range of issues. This would be the first three-party alliance to govern Germany in the post-War era.

The winner of Sunday's vote in Lower Saxony was the Social Democratic party, with an estimated 37.1% of the vote.

The win was partly due to the popularity of incumbent State Premier Stephan Weil, Mr. Mayer said. The snap election in the state of 6.1 million voters came after Mr. Weil's government lost its one-seat majority in July.

Nationally, the party had ruled as junior partner in Ms. Merkel's outgoing coalition government but now will return to opposition after scoring its worst result in post-War history.

Write to Andrea Thomas at andrea.thomas@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 15, 2017 14:29 ET (18:29 GMT)

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