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Germany

Regional elections pose hurdle for Merkel

Elections in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt could prove to be a setback for Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conservative party is experiencing waning support.

A hand drops a ballot into a box

Low turnout is expected in Saxony-Anhalt

Voters in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt head to the polls on Sunday to elect new representatives to the state parliament. The election is the second of a seven state elections in Germany this year, which are seen as litmus tests for the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel's party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), have seen their popularity decline since they took power along with the Free Democrats in 2009. Most recently, the government in the city-state of Hamburg changed hands from the CDU to the opposition Social Democrats in elections in February.

Angela Merkel

Merkel and the CDU face a series of political tests

The ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan has created a political issue in Germany, which could play a role in the Saxony-Anhalt vote. Merkel has backtracked from her previous stance that nuclear power in Germany should be extended, opting instead to shut down seven of Germany's oldest nuclear plants and conduct a thorough safety review on all 17 plants before a decision is made on extending their running time. Some see this as a political move ahead of the state elections.

While the Christian Democrats are expected to emerge first in the Saxony-Anhalt elections, questions remain unanswered. The strength of the National Democratic Party of Germany is unclear. If the nationalist party secures 5 percent of the vote, it will gain representation in the state parliament. The NPD is currently part of two other state parliaments.

The next state elections take place next week in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. This election is seen as much more politically significant for Merkel and the CDU, which has governed there for 58 years. Voters also go to the polls that weekend in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Author: Matt Zuvela (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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