Social Democrats trounce Merkel's CDU in Hamburg election

Social Democrats trounce Merkel's CDU in Hamburg election

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered a heavy blow Sunday in state elections in Hamburg, losing control of the northern city-state after nine years in power, according to official exit polls, DPA reported.

The exit poll for state broadcaster ZDF indicated the CDU won just 20 per cent of votes - a disappointing result for Merkel in the first of seven state elections this year in Germany.

The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) were predicted in exit polls by two main German public television channels to win 50 per cent, which would enable them to govern alone.

That result would enable the SPD's Olaf Scholz to take over as city mayor from CDU incumbent Christoph Ahlhaus.

Merkel herself did not comment immediately, but Mayor Ahlhaus admitted the party had suffered a "bitter defeat."

"This moment leaves us stunned," he said.

Scholz, 52, a former German labour minister with business-friendly policies, said after the exit polls were announced, "Voters want pragmatic politics that concentrate on what is achievable."

Provisional results were not expected until later in the evening. The ballot papers were slower to be counted than in most other German elections, because voters were able to set preferences within party lists.

If confirmed, the result would be the highest score ever achieved by the centre-left SPD in any legislative poll in modern Germany, reinvigorating a party that had been almost written off after months of dismal opinion polling.

The most important of the regional German elections this year takes place March 27 in the large and properous south-west state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where the Christian Democrats have ruled for half a century. Surveys suggest the Social Democrats and Green Party have an even chance of jointly winning that state.

The Hamburg result means the Merkel camp lose three more seats in the Bundesrat or upper house of parliament. Already lacking a majority there, her government must wheedle to push through federal government bills.

The Greens - who sparked Hamburg's early election by walking out of the unusual coalition with the centre-right CDU in November - were on track to gain 11 per cent, short of the 17-per-cent support that opinion polls give them nationwide.

Cem Ozdemir, the party's national co-leader, said, "A majority of Hamburg people wanted to get stable government."

Should the SPD fail to gain a governing majority when the votes are counted, they would be likely to seek a coalition with the Greens.

The pro-business Free Democrats, junior partner in the national coalition with the CDU, were expected to win 6.5 per cent.

This would allow them to re-enter the state legislature, after failing in two previous elections to pass a 5-per-cent hurdle to win representation.

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