Merkel suffers 'nightmare' defeat in bellwether state

Defeat of Chancellor’s CDU in Lower Saxony boost rivals’ hopes of general election victory

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats were licking their wounds today after suffering a narrow defeat at the polls in Germany’s second most populous state – a ballot viewed as a bellwether for the country’s general election this autumn.

Ms Merkel’s conservatives and their liberal Free Democrat coalition partners were ousted in Lower Saxony by an alliance of Social Democrats and Greens. They secured a one-seat majority in a cliffhanger election whose outcome became clear just before midnight on Sunday.

Looking distraught and tired, Ms Merkel told a press conference in Berlin yesterday that the result had “saddened” her party. Conceding that she had been clearly defeated, Ms Merkel added: “It is nevertheless difficult to accept such an outcome.”

Her conservatives had been confident of victory in Lower Saxony, where they had shared power with the Free Democrats since 2009. The alliance, which mirrored the coalition in Berlin, was led by the state’s Christian Democrat Prime Minister David McAllister, who has been tipped as a possible successor to Ms Merkel.

Commentators described the result as a “nightmare” for Ms Merkel as it came right at the beginning of a general election year. It was the third state election defeat in a row for the Christian Democrats in the space of two years. It came despite Ms Merkel’s record personal popularity. Polls show that 59 per cent of Germans think she is doing a good job.

“The outcome shows that nothing is certain. It means that the general election is likely to be a hard-fought battle for all parties,” an online editorial in Der Spiegel magazine said.