German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats seem set to stay in control in the central state of Hesse after a 12-month political stalemate. Social Democrats suffered dramatic losses.
Roland Koch and his wife, Anke, had reason to celebrate
The center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who govern at national level with the CDU, saw their share of the vote plunge to an historic low of 23.8 percent after narrowly failing to unseat CDU Prime Minister Roland Koch in a closely contested election a year ago.
The chancellor's conservative party was unable to profit from the SPD's poor showing and got 37.2 percent of the vote, slightly increasing its share when compared to the 36.8 percent it polled in 2008.
Hesse's FDP leader Joerg-Uwe Hahn will likely form a government with Koch
The CDU's preferred coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), was tipped to win around 16.2 percent, giving the two parties a comfortable majority in the 110-member legislature in Wiesbaden.
Hesse, one of Germany's most prosperous states where the financial center of Frankfurt is located, has been administered for the past 10 months by a caretaker government led by Koch.
Sunday's vote came less than a week after Merkel unveiled a 50-billion-euro ($67 billion) economic stimulus package designed to cushion the effects of a deepening recession.
Super election year kick-off
The vote kicked off a super election year, which sees five of the country's 16 states go to the polls, as well as elections for a new president in May, European elections in June and a general election on Sept. 27.
Voter support for the Hesse SPD had steadily eroded since a botched attempt to unseat Koch and form a minority government with help from the Greens and radical Left Party, which has its roots among former East German communists.
Hesse's SPD leader Andrea Ypsilanti (right) will likely be replaced by front-runner Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel (left)
Analysts said voters punished the SPD for a decision by its leader Andrea Ypsilanti to seek the backing of the Left Party, despite promising in campaign speeches that she would not do so.
Ypsilanti announced her resignation as party chairman immediately after the first results were announced.
The Greens won 13.8 percent and the Left Party 5.3 percent. Around 4.4 million people were eligible to vote in the election.