Another local election buoys Merkel's party ahead of German national vote

The victory of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in Sunday's election in Germany's most populous state has left her in a commanding position as she gears up for the national poll in September.

Social Democrats' top candidate Hannelore Kraft reacts to the first exit polls after the regional state elections of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The North Rhine Westphalia result brought to an end the SPD government led by state Premier Hannelore Kraft, who stepped down both as state leader and as state party chief. NRW is seen as a test of national mood ahead of Germany's federal election in September.

At the same time, the Green Party, now the junior coalition partner to the SPD in the government of Germany's most populous state, took a massive hit, dropping down to 6.4%.

CDU won 34.3 percent of the votes against the Social Democrats' (SPD) 30.6 percent.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's challenger in Germany's September election, Martin Schulz, is conceding that his party suffered a "really stinging defeat" in Sunday's vote in its western German heartland.

The nationalist Alternative for Germany won 7.4%, giving it seats in its 13th state legislature.

Following the result, Mr Laschet will discuss forming a coalition with the Free Democrats, which picked up 12.6% of the vote. The party - whose national leader, Christian Lindner, led its election effort in North Rhine-Westphalia - has tended to ally with Merkel's conservatives over recent decades.

"So, today we have an occasion to celebrate, but tomorrow we start serious work for the benefit of Germany", Secretary General of the CDU Party Peter Tauber told journalists in Berlin.

"His immediate task now will be to relaunch the so-far exclusively personality-driven SPD campaign for the Bundestag elections; the party immediately needs to start focusing on policies to widen the SPD's appeal beyond its core electorate".

Martin Schulz, chairman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Chancellor candidate for the upcoming general elections addresses the media after first projections for the state elections in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia were announced at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, May 14, 2017. It is home to almost a quarter of all German voters - more than 13 million.

"Incumbents are certainly not safe - incumbents can lose", said Thomas Oppermann, the party's national parliamentary leader.

The party has led governments in the state for 45 of the past 50 years.

The 55-year-old Kraft has regularly batted away pleas over the years from her party to take over as national leader from Merkel.

She also urged voters to look at her government's economic record - with 7.5 per cent unemployment, the state fares worse than the national rate of 5.8 per cent, she said. This is the third consecutive failure of the SPD over the last two months - after the elections in the federal states of Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein.

With the FDP's double digit success and the Left Party's projected failure to make it to North Rhine-Westphalia's parliament, Merkel's CDU could form a narrow center-right majority with the FDP.

  • Leroy Wright