Merkel's conservatives face 'humiliating' election defeat

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The Independent Online

Angela Merkel's ruling conservatives were on course for humiliating defeat in key elections in the central German state of Hesse last night after losing more than 10 per cent of the vote to the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.

First exit polls suggested that support for Mrs Merkel's party had dropped 13 per cent and would force the resignation Roland Koch, the state's right-wing Prime Minister who had fought a highly controversial anti- "foreign criminals" campaign that was widely described as racist.

The result was expected to result in a so-called "Red- Green" coalition comprised of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens ending nine years of conservative rule in the state. Claudia Roth, a leading Green politician said: "Koch has totally underestimated the strength of opposition to his unpopular campaign – he is out," she insisted.

The SPD's win was a personal victory for Mrs Andrea Ypsilanti, her party's font-runner who was on course to become the state's first woman leader. Mrs Ypsilanti is a supporter of the swing to the left in SPD policy introduced by Kurt Beck the party leader.

Mr Koch's defeat weakened his potential as a conservative rival to Mrs Merkel's chancellorship. During his campaign he called for "boot camps" for "foreign criminals" and criticised Germany's 15 million immigrants for failing to properly dispose of their household rubbish.

Mrs Merkel nominally supported Mr Koch, but was careful to avoid using the term "foreign criminal" in the run up to the poll. The result will sharpen differences within Mrs Merkel's coalition government of conservative Christian Democrats and left-of-centre Social Democrats in Berlin prior to Germany's 2009 general election.