Voters in North Rhine-Westphalia inflicted a heavy blow on Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday and strengthened the Social Democrat-Green regional government.
The outcome was a bitter pill to swallow for Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) as the country looks toward national elections due late next year and the chancellor refuses to change her austerity tune.
Support for Ms Merkel's party plunged to 26.3 per cent from 34.6 per cent in 2010, its worst showing in the state since World War II.
The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens won combined support of 50.4 per cent in the election.
That gave SPD minister-president Hannelore Kraft and deputy-minister Sylvia Löhrmann a majority in the state legislature, which they narrowly missed in the last regional election two years ago.
"The likelihood has become significantly greater that the next chancellor will be a Social Democrat," SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles proclaimed on ARD television.
"This is a crashing defeat for Mrs Merkel."
CDU candidate Norbert Roettgen had declared that Sunday's election would decide "whether Angela Merkel's course in Europe is strengthened or whether it is weakened by the re-election of a pro-debt government in Germany."
The neoliberal Free Democrats, Ms Merkel's struggling partners in the national government, polled 8.6 per cent.
About 13.2 million people were eligible to vote in the state, a traditional centre-left stronghold that includes Cologne, Dusseldorf and the industrial Ruhr region. Turnout was barely changed at 59.6 per cent.
The upstart Pirate Party, which has surged lately with a platform of total internet freedom and "liquid democracy," gained 7.8 per cent of the vote.
The Left Party won just 2.5 percent compared with 5.6 per cent in 2010.
Left Party chairman Klaus Ernst said that the result was "undeniably a bitter defeat," suggesting the Pirates had split the left vote.
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