German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling conservatives suffered a humiliating defeat in key state elections in Hamburg last night after they lost over twenty percent of the vote to the opposition Social Democrats in what amounted to their worst ever performance in the port city.
Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats were ousted from power after ruling Hamburg for eight years. The Social Democrats, headed by Olaf Scholz, his party’s former general secretary, won nearly 50 percent of the vote putting them on course to govern with an absolute majority.
Political observers said Mr Scholz's sweeping victory could put him in line to run against Ms Merkel as the Social Democrats' candidate for Chancellor in Germany's 2013 general election.
The election was the first in Germany’s so-called “super election year” in which a total of nine important state polls are due to take place. Their outcome is likely to determine Ms Merkel’s future as chancellor. Mr Scholz said his victory was a “very, very impressive result.”
Dietmar Gabriel, the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats added;“ This victory is historic. It shows what the Social Democrats are really capable of.” However Eckehardt von Klaeden a leading Christian Democrat MP insisted that the huge vote losses for his party would have little impact on national politics.
“Research in the run up to the election showed that it was dominated by local issues. I do not think it will have any serious consequences for us at a national level,” he said.
Germany’s conservatives have been losing popularity with voters claiming that Ms Merkel bungled the Euro crisis last year. Her decision to prolong the life of nuclear power stations has also been unpopular. However opinion polls have suggested that support for the party has increased nationally in recent weeks.
Ms Merkel’s liberal Free Democrat coalition partners in Berlin did better than expected in the Hamburg poll. Exit polls showed that they were on course to obtain around 6.5 percent of the vote, a result which would enable to enter the city parliament.
The environmentalist Greens had hoped to secure around 15 percent of the Hamburg vote and share power with the Social Democrats. However exit polls suggested that they would pick up just under 12 percent.
Mr Scholz defeated his unpopular conservative opponent Christoph Ahlhaus by advocating rightwing pro- business policies which some critics argued were “more conservative” than the conservatives. “We have been given the support of a large number of voters and we must ensure that we meet our pledges,” Mr Scholz declared last night.
The Hamburg poll will be followed by crucial elections in the southern state of Baaden-Wurttemberg at the end of March. Ms Merkel’s party, which has governed the state since World War II, is in danger of losing to the Greens and Social Democrats.
Both parties have strongly opposed an unpopular, yet grandiose plan to modernise the main station in the state capital Stuttgart. However Ms Merkel has backed the project. Political analysts have predicted that Ms Merkel may be forced to call a snap general election if she loses in the southern state.