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Rhineland-Palatinate plays it safe, re-electing SPD for sixth consecutive term

In a huge blow to Angela Merkel's CDU, the SPD has won 36.4 percent of the vote in Rhineland-Palatinate and the AfD has entered parliament for the first time. DW's Kate Brady reports from the state capital, Mainz.

At the election party for the Social Democrats (SPD), the kegs were tapped and the beers were flowing well before the first preliminary votes were announced at the offices of Rhineland-Palatinate's parliament on Sunday. Come 6 p.m. (1700 UTC), it turned out that the SPD had been anything but premature in their celebrations, as the room erupted following the faction's preliminary win.

After starting the weekend neck and neck with the Christian Democrats (CDU), the SPD succeeded in winning their sixth consecutive term in office in Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday. Chants of "Malu, Malu, Malu!" echoed across the courtyard of the ministerial buildings as the SPD celebrated the success of SPD faction leader and defending state minister Malu Dreyer (pictured above, left).

Results showed that 36.4 percent of Rhineland Palatinate's electorate voted to keep the SPD in office for their sixth consecutive term. Many state premiers have been known to hold office for several terms in Rhineland-Palatinate - a positive sign for Dreyer who faced the public vote for the first time on Sunday, despite sitting as state premier for three years.

Her predecessor Kurt Beck stepped down in mid-term after 20 years due to a combination of health reasons and the Nüremburgring affair, which resulted in the bankruptcy of the motorsports complex.

"I'm just so happy with the result," Dreyer told her SPD fraction on Sunday evening, adding that celebrations were the first task at hand. Come Monday, however, Dreyer and the SPD must begin talks with potential coalition partners after their previous partner, the Greens, pulled in just 5.2 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results - failing to help the SPD reach the majority of 51 parliamentary seats required to form a state governement.

'Traffic light coalition'

Having ruled out a "Grand Coalition" with Klöckner and the CDU ahead of the election, Dreyer looks most likely to work towards a "traffic light coalition," which will see the SPD, Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens join forces. The three parties would be able to form a state government with the SPD holding 39 seats, the Greens six and the FDP seven.

Sunday marked a huge milestone for the liberal FDP as they make a slow return to the political stage with 6.1 percent of the preliminary vote, having won absolutely no seats in Rhineland-Palatinate’s last election in 2011.

At the state parliament offices in Mainz, SPD party member Ute Schumacher, said Sunday’s outcome "couldn’t have been better for the SPD."

After lagging some 10 percent behind Klöckner and the CDU in January, Schumacher said Dreyer had turned the tables due to her "sheer hard work, energy and likeability."

"Many people saw through Klöckner’s pretentious laugh and fake smile," she told DW, adding that it was a mistake for the CDU candidate to contest Merkel’s refugee policy.

Klöckner has long distanced herself from Merkel’s refugee policy and in January proposed her own alternative - known as "A2" - which would see a daily quota of refugees allowed into Germany – a measure recently introduced by neighboring Austria.

With the SPD now set to on track to hold office for 30 years in Rhineland-Palatinate, Sunday’s results proved that despite the social upheaval of the ongoing refugee crisis, the western German state remains largely against political experimentation. Left-wing parties such as Die Linke and the Piraten never had a chance in reaching the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament, while the right-wing NPD has only ever entered parliament once, between 1967 and 1971.

Swing from the right

On Sunday, however, Rhineland-Palatinate saw one significant change. After winning a predicted 12.3 percent of the vote, right-wing-populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) are set to enter Rhineland-Palatinate’s parliament for the first time.

The AfD has seen a surge in support across several states in recent months, launching their campaign off the back of an anti-immigration platform in an attempt to garner votes from disillusioned CDU voters.

The controversial party won’t be entering a coalition anytime soon, however, with both the SPD and the CDU refusing to enter a coalition with the AfD under any circumstances.

Dreyer refused last week to even appear with AfD candidate Uwe Junge on the final televised debate, arguing that she did not want to provide a platform for "right-wing messages."

SPD member Eric Schumacher told DW that despite his party’s win, the success of the AfD had made it a "bitter night" for Rhineland-Palatinate.

"It would have been nicer if we could have kept the AfD party out of Rhineland-Palatinate’s parliament," he said, adding that it was difficult to predict what effect their success would have on the federal election in 2017.

Merkel to face the music

The so-called "Super Sunday" elections in Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as neighboring Baden-Württemberg and the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, were widely seen as a referendum of Chancellor Angela Merke's refugee policy, ahead of next year’s federal vote.

Addressing her faction in Mainz on Sunday, Klöckner said that although the CDU had failed to become Rhineland-Palatinate’s strongest party, they had still achieved one of their goals in ousting the red-green coalition. This small consolation prize is likely to be overshadowed on the national stage by the CDU’s failure to win at least two of the three states which voted on Sunday.

After Klöckner’s moment in the spotlight, all eyes will now be turning back to Berlin as they await the chancellor’s response to Sunday’s huge blow to the CDU.