Social Democratic Party members react after the first results were published in Duesseldorf, Germany, Sunday May 13, 2012. Germany’s most populated and industrial state holds parliament elections on Sunday. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
BERLIN (AP) — Voters in Germany’s most populous state inflicted an embarrassingly heavy defeat on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives Sunday and strengthened a regional government that the German leader’s party had portrayed as irresponsibly spendthrift.
The outcome boosted Germany’s center-left opposition, and was a bitter pill to swallow for Merkel’s Christian Democrats as the country looks toward national elections due late next year and the chancellor grapples with Europe’s stubbornly persistent debt crisis.
The center-left Social Democrats and Greens — Germany’s main opposition parties — won combined support of 50.4 percent in the election in North Rhine-Westphalia. That gave them a majority in the state legislature, which they narrowly missed in the last regional election two years ago.
Meanwhile, support for Merkel’s party plunged to 26.3 percent from 34.6 percent in 2010, its worst showing in the state since World War II.
“The likelihood has become significantly greater that the next chancellor will be a Social Democrat,” the opposition party’s general secretary, Andrea Nahles, proclaimed on ARD television.
Still, the pro-market Free Democrats, Merkel’s struggling partners in the national government, performed respectably, polling 8.6 percent — a result that may Login to read more