The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) won a decisive victory in local elections in the north-eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
German broadcaster ARD put the SPD at 35.7 percent, well above the 30.2 percent they received in the last elections in 2006. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), meanwhile, dropped from 28.8 percent in 2006 to 23.1 percent in their worst showing ever in the state. Merkel's home constituency is in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
"We are disappointed that we lost by so much," senior CDU lawmaker Peter Altmaier said.
The socialist Left party gained ground, from 16.8 percent to 18.4 percent, while the Greens were poised to enter the state's parliament for the first time, with 8.4 percent of the vote.
Low voter turnout
State officials put voter turnout at 52 percent of the state's 1.4 million eligible voters, well below the 59 percent recorded in 2006.
Currently governed by a coalition of SPD and CDU, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is the poorest of Germany's 16 states. Unemployment stands at 11.5 percent and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is below the European Union average.
Merkel's CDU has suffered losses in five regional elections this year and could now be ejected from the state's ruling coalition. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's current Social Democratic premier, Erwin Sellering, has expressed openness to forming a coalition with other partners.
But around 47 percent of voters in the state continued to support the current coalition, while 34 percent appeared to want the SPD and the Left party to join forces. A coalition between the SPD and the Greens got the backing of 35 percent of the electorate.
Far right clears hurdle
The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) polled at 6 percent, just barely above the 5 percent hurdle required for parliamentary representation.
The free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP) fell to 2.8 percent, which means they are set to lose their seats in the state legislature. The FDP is Merkel's junior coalition partner in the German government.
The party's secretary general, Christian Lindner, said it was a "bitter defeat" in which the state parliament lost its liberal voice while the "enemies of democracy," the NPD, managed to hold on to their representation in the legislature.
"There's no reason to throw in the towel now even though this defeat has a bitter taste," Lindner said. "No one should write off the FDP. We're going to fight."
Sixteen political parties and 341 candidates were competing for the 71 seats in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's parliament. The results were preliminary, since polls were open in only 35 of the state's 36 counties. On the island of Rügen the vote has been delayed until September 18 due to the death of the CDU candidate, Udo Timm.
Author: Spencer Kimball (dpa, dapd, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson