Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition has suffered a setback in a key state election. Preliminary results gave the center-left opposition the edge - by the smallest of margins.
Preliminary official results give the Social Democrat SPD and Greens a total of 69 seats in Lower Saxony's state legislature, compared to 68 for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their preferred coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
The Social Democrats' candidate to take over as premier in the state, Stephan Weil (pictured above), told public television that he intended to use the slim majority to form a new center-left government. The outgoing mayor of the state capital, Hanover, said that a majority of one seat was sufficient to form a stable coalition and that “as things stand, this is my intention.”
The new SPD-Green coalition, would replace the incumbent center-right coalition led by Premier David McAllister of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats.
CDU still biggest party despite losses
Premier McAllister has yet to comment on the preliminary election results, which saw his CDU remain the largest single party, with 36.0 percent support, despite being down by 6.5 percent compared to the 2008 election.
Weil's Social Democrats finished second, with 32.6 percent of the votes, up by 2.3 percent from four years ago, what really put the center-left over the top were the Greens, who improved on their 2008 result by 5.7 percent, taking 13.7 percent.
The Free Democrats, who pollsters had predicted would have trouble clearing the five-percent hurdle required to send members to the legislature, surprised many by taking 9.9 percent, a 1.7 percent improvement on their 2008 result.
The Left party and the upstart Pirate party failed to clear the five percent hurdle, taking 3.1 and 2.1 percent respectively.
Reprieve for Rösler's FDP
The surprising outcome for the regional FDP led by Stefan Birkner, may have provided something of a reprieve for the party's embattled federal leader and German Vice Chancellor Philipp Rösler, who hails from Lower Saxony.
The polling agency Wahlen said its exit survey of 20,000 voters on Sunday showed the FDP's return to parliament was due to many CDU adherents donating their second party vote to the CDU's ally. Lower Saxony has a two-vote system - one for the local candidate and one for the party of choice.
Despite wintery weather conditions, voter turnout on Sunday was just under 60 percent, up by more than two percent from the 2008 polls.
The Lower Saxony election was closely watched across the country, as many regarded it as a possible early indicator for the next federal election, to be held in the early autumn.
pfd/ccp (dpa, Reuters, AFP)