( dpa ) - Voters in the two western German states of Hesse and Lower Saxony turned away from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in key state elections Sunday.
In Hesse, where it had been in power since 1999, the CDU suffered the more serious setback, with the final outcome remaining unclear shortly after the polls closed at 18:00 pm, according to exit polls conducted by the major broadcasters.
In neighbouring Lower Saxony, the CDU also saw a decline in support, although by a lower margin, and is to continue in government with its liberal coalition partner, the FDP.
Merkel's party saw its support in Hesse decline to around 36 per cent from 49 per cent in 2003, behind the Social Democrats (SPD) on around 37 per cent.
Roland Koch, the CDU premier, ran a divisive campaign highlighting crime committed by young foreigners, polarizing the electorate, while his SPD challengers, Andrea Ypsilanti, concentrated on the traditional SPD themes of wages, education and the integration of minorities.
The results scored by their potential partners among the minor parties meant it was uncertain how a governing coalition might be formed.
With the FDP on around 9 per cent and the SPD's preferred partner, the Greens, on 8 per cent, neither bloc was sure of securing a majority in the 110-seat state legislature when all the votes are counted.
In Lower Saxony, incumbent CDU Premier Christian Wulff saw his support fall to 43 per cent from 48 per cent in 2003.
Here the SPD scored its worst result in recent years, declining to around 30 per cent from 33 per cent in 2003.
The closely watched Left Party entered the Lower Saxony state parliament for the first time with 6 per cent, but narrowly failed to clear the 5-per-cent hurdle in Hesse.
Some 10.5 million were eligible to vote in the two elections, of whom some two thirds cast their ballots.
The next state elections are scheduled for February 24 in the city-state of Hamburg, where the ruling CDU is currently . The next federal elections must take place by September 2009.