Merkel Gains Momentum in German State Vote as Rivals Slump

  • Next up is election in biggest bellwether state on Sunday
  • Chancellor’s party rebounding after Social Democrat surge ebbs

Angela Merkel’s party picked up momentum in a German state election, convincingly defeating the Social Democrats who want to unseat the chancellor in the national vote in September.

As Merkel’s preferred candidate Emmanuel Macron won France’s presidential election, her Christian Democratic Union posted an unexpectedly clear victory in a much smaller contest in Schleswig-Holstein. It’s a confidence booster for the CDU ahead of elections next Sunday in SPD-led North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state with 18 million people and the main bellwether before the federal ballot.

Martin Schulz and Torsten Albig on May 8.

Photographer: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images

Sunday’s vote offered further evidence of Merkel’s rebound in the polls, reversing an SPD surge in early 2017 after the party named former European Parliament president Martin Schulz to run for chancellor. With polls in North Rhine-Westphalia showing the CDU and SPD running neck and neck, pressure on the Social Democrats to avoid another defeat will grow. Merkel plans to hold a news conference at about 1 p.m. in Berlin on Monday.

“This is a disaster for the SPD,” Carsten Nickel, a Brussels-based analyst for Teneo Intelligence, said by phone. “The SPD doesn’t know whether it wants to move toward the center or move its base on the left. Merkel is doing very well in using this situation to her advantage.”

Schulz, who’s seeking to deny Merkel a fourth term on Sept. 24, called the result a setback for his party. After the SPD closed the gap between Germany’s two biggest parties as recently as March, national polls now put Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc ahead by as many as 8 percentage points.

SPD Denied

“This isn’t a happy morning for us, there’s no way to pretend otherwise,” Schulz told reporters in Berlin on Monday.

After Merkel’s party won an unexpectedly clear victory in Saarland in March, Schleswig-Holstein marked the SPD’s second consecutive defeat in regional elections.

State premier Torsten Albig conceded defeat after his coalition of SPD and Greens was voted out in the region of 2.8 million between the Baltic and North seas. The CDU took 32 percent of the vote, gaining 1.2 percentage points compared with 2011, while the SPD slumped more than 3 points to 27.2 percent, according to official results published early Monday.

The biggest winner of the night was the Free Democratic Party, which rose 3.3 points to 11.5 percent, raising the possibility of a CDU-led government with the Greens and Free Democrats. Such an alliance also could come into play after the federal election if the result matches current polls and the SPD declines to serve as Merkel’s junior partner for another term.

“I advise all parties involved to think more flexibly than in the past, myself included,” Wolfgang Kubicki, the FDP leader in Schleswig-Holstein, told reporters in Berlin on Monday.

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