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Despite finishing first, the CDU could lose power in Hesse state

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives have emerged as the winners not at the national level, as well as in the central state of Hesse. It's still not clear whether they will lead the next state government.

The Christian Democrats (CDU), led by Hesse's incumbent premier, Volker Bouffier (pictured above), were confirmed as the strongest party in the state on Sunday, with preliminary official results giving them 38.3 percent of the vote. That's slightly better than they did in the 2009 election.

The CDU's current coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats managed to clear the hurdle for sending deputies to the state assembly, winning exactly 5 percent according to the preliminary results released early on Monday. The combined total of 43.3 per cent is not quite enough to form a majority in the Wiesbaden legislature. Undeterred though, Premier Bouffier said he planned to lead Hesse's next government.

"We are by far the strongest power in this state and we intend to lead this state politically in the future as well," Bouffier said in an interview with public broadcaster HR on Sunday evening.

Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, the leading candidate for the Social Democrats (SPD), though, also indicated that his party would not be satisfied with remaining in opposition.

"We are saying very clearly, we want to actively create, not just sit back and watch," said Schäfer-Gümbel, whose party won 30.7 percent of the vote under his leadership, compared to just 24 percent four years ago.

The SPD combined with their preferred coalition partners, the Greens, who took 11.1 percent on Sunday, also won't have enough seats to form a majority. It's not completely clear whether Schäfer-Gümbel might entertain the idea of trying to govern with the help of the far Left party. He had ruled it out "politically" during the campaign, but also conceded that the possibility did exist.

A warning from the past

Schäfer-Gümbel, though, can be expected to tread carefully, having seen an attempt by his SPD predecessor end in a fiasco following the 2008 state election, which also produced a hung parliament.

The SPD's leading candidate, Andrea Ypsilanti, hatched a plan to rule in a coalition with the Greens, despite the fact they didn't have a majority in parliament. The Left party had agreed to “tolerate” the minority government. Ypsilanti had already won support for the idea at an SPD party convention. However, her plan to become state premier failed, when four members of her party refused to support her in a vote in the legislature.

The legislature was subsequently dissolved and the CDU and FDP returned to power with a majority in a snap election held early in 2009.

pfd/lw (dpa, Reuters)

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