Early elections are planned in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. But while it was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partners who precipitated the regional government’s collapse, they may also be the biggest losers.
A snap poll became inevitable in Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) on Wednesday after the center-left minority regional government failed to win parliamentary backing for its 2012 budget.
Fresh state elections could prove to be a test of Merkel's ruling coalition, threatening the stability of junior coalition partners, the business friendly, liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
Ironically, the increasingly unpopular party, which has recently polled at between 3 and 5 percent, could now find itself savaged at the regional level and kicked out of the state parliament.
NRW's state-wide coalition of Social Democrats and Greens was forced to admit defeat on Wednesday after the liberals joined other opposition parties in refusing to pass the budget.
State premier Hannelore Kraft, who heads a minority government comprising her own Social Democrats (SPD), had said she would call a fresh election if the 2012 budget plans were not approved, hoping to win the support of the FDP. However, the FDP objected to some individual parts of the bill, notably in the Interior Ministry budget, and voted against them.
Local difficulty, national headache
A bad result for the FDP in the state of 18 million people could spell problems for the party - and as a result Merkel's coalition - with leader Philipp Rösler under mounting pressure over the party's poor ratings.
Perhaps the most likely outcome of the vote would be a greater majority for the existing ruling coalition of Greens and Social Democrats. The Greens, recently surfing a wave of increased popularity, have indicated they would be keen to maintain the status quo.
"We would like to form a government again with the SPD and Hannelore Kraft," said Green deputy premier of the state Sylvia Löhrmann.
Elections in NRW have had an impact on the national government in recent years, with Merkel losing her Bundesrat majority in 2010 due to the defeat of her Christian Democratic colleague in the state, then premier Jürgen Rüttgers.
rc/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)