Merkel Party Sinks to Postwar Low in Hamburg as SPD Wins

Germany’s Social Democrats won regional elections in Hamburg, handing Chancellor Angela Merkel a defeat as her party’s support in the nation’s richest state fell to a post-World War II low, projections showed.

The Social Democrats declined slightly to about 46.5 percent in the city-state, forcing Mayor Olaf Scholz to seek a possible coalition with the Greens for a second term after Sunday’s vote, according to projections by ARD and ZDF national television based on partial results. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union slid to 16 percent from almost the 22 percent in the last election in 2011. The anti-euro Alternative for Germany party was projected above the 5 percent threshold needed to enter the Hamburg assembly for the first time.

The vote in Germany’s biggest port and second-biggest city extends an erosion of support for Merkel’s party in regional ballots that hasn’t dented her national standing as she focuses on crises in Ukraine and the euro area. She canceled her only Hamburg campaign rally, flying to Minsk instead for all-night talks with French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin on a cease-fire for eastern Ukraine.

“If you have an incumbent mayor who’s highly regarded -- the kind of thing we see with the chancellor nationally -- then it’s difficult for challengers,” Michael Grosse-Broemer, the CDU whip in the federal parliament, told ARD. “We’re stable at more than 40 percent at the federal level. For other elections, we’ve got a bit of work to do.”

Elbe Channel

The Greens took about 12 percent, the anti-capitalist Left about 8.5 percent and the Free Democrats about 7 percent, according to the projections. Merkel, whose CDU leads the Social Democrats by as many as 19 percentage points in five national polls, plans to comment at a news conference in Berlin at 12:30 p.m. Monday.

Scholz, 56, has said the Greens would be his first choice as coalition ally. A potential stumbling block is the proposed dredging of the Elbe channel to the North Sea about 130 kilometers (81 miles) downstream, which Scholz backs.

Deepening and widening the channel is necessary to ensure economic growth, as large vessels today can’t leave and enter the port fully loaded and face tide restrictions, the mayor says. The Greens oppose the project on environmental concerns.

Scholz, a former federal labor minister who has been mayor since 2011, campaigned in part on his edge in popularity over CDU challenger Dietrich Wersich, a physician who heads the party’s caucus in the Hamburg assembly.

AfD Expectations

Hamburg’s diversified economy ranges from publishing to Europe’s second-biggest container port and an Airbus NV assembly plant that employs 15,000 people. While per-capita gross domestic product of 53,611 euros ($61,181) compares with a German average of 33,555 euros, the jobless rate of 7.7 percent in January is higher than the national average of 6.5 percent.

Alternative for Germany, headed by Hamburg economics professor Bernd Lucke and known by its German acronym AfD, was projected as taking as much as 6 percent for its first seats in a western German state.

“I was hoping for more,” Lucke told ARD in an interview. “Issues like the euro or the Greek crisis regrettably played absolutely no role because this was a local election.”

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