North Rhine-Westphalia results hit Scholz

Chancellor Olaf Schultz suffered a major setback on Sunday, when his Social Democrats suffered their worst-ever election result in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, once a stronghold of the SPD.

The SPD’s approval rating is 27.1 percent, down more than four points from the last election in 2017, according to projections by exit polls for Germany’s ARD TV channel.

The two biggest winners were the opposition CDU, which won with 35.9 percent of the vote, up nearly 3 percentage points from 2017, while the Greens tripled to 18.1 percent. It was the Green Party’s best ever result in the state.

North Rhine-Westphalia is currently governed by a coalition of the CDU and the Free Democrats (FDP), but the two parties may no longer hold a majority in the regional parliament. The CDU is now widely expected to govern alongside the Greens.

Such a “black-green” coalition is predicted to control 117 of the 199 seats in regional councils.

The results are bad news for Olaf Schultz, whose poll ratings have dropped in recent weeks Growing criticism of his Ukrainian war policy.

He has been accused of being too restrained in publicly supporting the authorities in Kyiv and slow to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons at a time when eastern Ukraine faces a massive Russian offensive.

North Rhine-Westphalia is one of the largest states in Germany and an important leader for the entire country. Sunday’s election was seen as a touchstone for Scholz and his government, an unprecedented tripartite collaboration between the SPD, Lib Dems and the Greens.

The prime minister has campaigned hard for North Rhine-Westphalia’s Social Democrats and has appeared on hundreds of election posters across the state alongside the party’s leading candidate, Thomas Couchati.

North Rhine-Westphalia, the birthplace of Germany’s heavy industry, has a population of 18 million, and if it were an independent state, it would be Europe’s sixth-largest economy.

It was long seen as the “beating heart” of Germany’s social-democratic movement, but with the decline of traditional chimney industries and the closure of coal mines in the Ruhr Valley, the SPD’s grip on the state waned.

Sunday’s election is a major victory for Christian Democrat state premier Hendrik Wooster, who only took office last October and will now be seen as one of the rising stars of Germany’s main opposition party.

The lawyer succeeds Armin Laschet, who Resign as CDU leader and North Rhine-Westphalia’s premier after last year’s Bundestag elections, the party fell to its worst result in post-war history.

“Voters gave us jobs to organize and lead [North Rhine-Westphalia’s] future government,” Wüst told cheering supporters on Sunday night, calling the result a “clear vote of confidence” in the CDU.

The CDU secured a strong vote a week after the party scored a decisive victory in another regional election in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.

One consolation for the SPD is that the CDU-Lib Dem coalition, which has been in power since 2017, lacks the votes to form a majority. “Black and yellow [the party colours for CDU and FDP] There is no majority in North Rhine-Westphalia,” Kucharti told supporters.

The SPD has also not given up hope of forming a government in the state. “The majority of people in North Rhine-Westphalia want a red-green government – all opinion polls show that,” said SPD president Lars Klimber.

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