Voters in two eastern German states are headed to the polls to elect new governments. In one of them, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives could be voted out of office for the first time since German reunification.
The polls opened in Brandenburg and Thuringia at 8:00 a.m. (0600 UTC) on Sunday and were to remain open for 12 hours.
The last opinion polls conducted prior to the elections indicated that the coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and the Left party, which has governed the state since the 2009 election, would be returned to power under Premier Dietmar Woidke (SPD).
However, the outcome of the election in Thuringia appeared far less certain. While opinion polls indicate that the current grand coalition made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD) could well win enough votes for another majority, tensions have emerged between the parties in the current state government.
Possible firsts in Thuringia
Premier Christine Lieberknecht (CDU) could be left out in the cold if the SPD opt to team up instead with the Left party and the Greens, which, opinion polls indicate, could find themselves in a position to form a majority as well. None of these three parties has ruled out the possibility and if they decide to band together, this could pave the way for Bodo Ramelow of the Left party to become state premier.
Not only would this be thefirst time that the CDU has been ousted from power in Thuringia since Germany was reunited in 1990, but it would also be the first time that a politician from the Left party, which is made up in part by former East German communists, became a state premier.
Opinion polls also suggest that the anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will enter the state assemblies in Potsdam and Erfurt for the first time, after they successfully cleared the five percent hurdle in Saxony two weeks ago.
The liberal Free Democrats, who long served as junior coalition partners to the CDU at the federal level, appeared set to fail to clear the five percent hurdle, which would leave it with seats in just six of Germany's 16 states.
pfd/nm (Reuters, dpa, AP)