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Loss in German vote curbs Merkel’s power

Angela Merkel lost a majority in Parliament’s upper house. Angela Merkel lost a majority in Parliament’s upper house.
By Geir Moulson
Associated Press / May 10, 2010

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BERLIN — Angela Merkel’s center-right alliance lost a key election in Germany’s most populous state yesterday, costing the chancellor her majority in the upper house of Parliament and curbing her government’s power.

The state election in North Rhine-Westphalia — the first electoral test since Merkel’s second term started in October — had loomed over European efforts to tackle the Greek debt crisis.

Merkel initially held out on agreeing to aid for cash-strapped Athens, prompting German opposition parties to accuse her of avoiding an unpopular decision in the election run-up.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats won 34.6 percent of the vote — 10 points down from five years ago and their worst showing in the state since World War II — and the Free Democrats 6.7 percent, final results showed.

The coalition, which mirrors the makeup of the national government, finished well short of a majority in the state legislature in Duesseldorf.

The main opposition Social Democrats won 34.5 percent and the Greens 12.1 percent. A hard-left rival, the Left Party, won 5.6 percent.

“This is of course a warning shot for the governing parties, and the people should know that it has been heard,’’ said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, a Free Democrat. “We must make an effort to win back lost trust with hard and good work.’’

It wasn’t immediately clear who would run North Rhine-Westphalia and whether conservative Juergen Ruettgers could hold on to the governor’s office.

The Social Democrats fell just short of a majority to govern along with the Greens. They could try to form a previously untried alliance with the Left Party or a “grand coalition’’ with the conservatives.

Merkel is likely to have a harder time running Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, without a majority in the upper house, which represents Germany’s 16 states and must approve major legislation.