Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered significant political blows over the weekend following two state elections which saw the Greens make dramatic gains. The polls have been widely viewed as a referendum on nuclear energy.
The Greens garnered 24.2 percent support in the Baden-Württemberg election, doubling their share of the vote since the last state polls in 2006. This has paved the way for a Green party state premier, a first in German history. The Green party's state leader, Winfried Kretschmann, has been tipped as a likely candidate.
The Social Democrats (SPD) polled 23.1 percent, giving a coalition of the Greens and the SPD a majority. As predicted, the CDU took a severe drubbing, coming in with only 39 percent, a drop of 5.2 points. After heading the government in Baden-Württemberg for 58 years, this electoral slump was the party's second-worst showing in the state.
Green party co-leader Claudia Roth described the result as a new era for her party, saying the electorate had "written history." Roth also sought to put more distance between her party and the CDU on Monday, saying the Christian Democrats had alienated themselves through their nuclear and social policies.
'Painful' election result
The losses have sparked a round of soul-searching within the CDU. Speaking in Berlin on Monday, Merkel said the election defeat in the conservative stronghold of Baden-Württemberg after nearly six decades of rule was painful and would take a long time to overcome. She said the large swing to the Greens could "very clearly" be tied to the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
Many Germans are wary of Merkel's surprise policy flip-flop in the wake of Japan's nuclear crisis.
After pushing through a law last autumn to extend the lifetimes of the nation's ageing nuclear reactors, her government announced a three-month moratorium on that extension for safety checks and the immediate shuttering of seven of the nation's oldest nuclear reactors.
On Monday Merkel said the government would stick to its timetable for assessing Germany’s nuclear power plants, despite nationwide protests over the weekend signaling widespread voter discontent with federal energy policies.
Following the election result, Stefan Mappus, the regional chairman of the CDU party in Baden-Württemberg, resigned from his post.
SPD state chairman for Baden-Württemberg, Nils Schmid, said his party would "work to bring together economic reason and social cohesion" in the state.
Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel, meanwhile, has used the election results to call for joint discussions on a new energy policy. He said voters had sent a "clear signal" in favor of a nuclear phaseout, which, he said, could be achieved by 2020.
Heads roll as FDP struggles
The Free Democrats (FDP), partners with the CDU at the national level, polled 5.3 percent in Baden-Württemberg, leaving the two parties short of a majority to form a coalition. The liberals saw their support slide 5.4 percent.
In Sunday's other election in Rhineland-Palatinate, the FDP failed to clear the 5 percent hurdle for entering the state legislature.
Vice-Chancellor and leader of the FDP Guido Westerwelle said his party had understood the clear message from voters in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. He said the liberals would address the fallout from the elections by the next party conference in May.
"It cannot be business as usual," he said. "There can be no simple continuation."
Rainer Brüderle, the regional chairman of the FDP in Rhineland-Palatinate, resigned on Monday, taking with him the entire regional board. FDP party Treasurer Jürgen Creutzmann said they wanted a new start. Brüderle will keep his post on the national level as economics minister in Chancellor Merkel's cabinet.
The Left party took home 2.8 percent of the vote in Baden-Württemberg and 3 percent in Rhineland-Palatinate, leaving them out of the state parliament as 5 percent is required for representation.
SPD-Greens coalition for Rhineland-Palatinate
In the smaller state of Rhineland-Palatinate it was the SPD, not Merkel's CDU, that was the main casualty of anti-incumbent sentiment on election day, although state Premier Kurt Beck is to retain power.
The SPD lost its absolute majority but remained the strongest party with 35.7 percent of the vote, a fall of 9.9 percent since the last state election in 2006. The Greens polled 15.4 percent, a 10.8-percent increase, securing representation in the state parliament after a five-year hiatus. Projections placed the CDU at 35.2 percent of the vote, a 2.4 percent rise on the previous poll.
The result could indicate a coalition between the SPD and the Greens in Rhineland-Palatinate as well.
The CDU's losses will make it even harder for Merkel to pass legislation in the Bundesrat upper house and likely prompt new calls for her to shore up her rightist credentials. Analysts have said her federal coalition, however, will likely survive.
Author: Darren Mara, Matt Zuvela, Richard Connor (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler