Angela Merkel's CDU 'seizes key state from rivals'

AFP Merkel's party scores decisive win in key state vote exit polls

AFP Merkel's party scores decisive win in key state vote exit polls

The pressure is on the Social Democrats, led by challenger Martin Schulz, in the election for the state legislature in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Another option for Laschet is a tie-up with his party's traditional allies, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), a coalition which would have a thin parliamentary majority.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) will also enter North Rhine-Westphalia's parliament for the first time, after accumulating 7.7 percent of the vote.

"We accomplished our two goals: defeating the SPD-Greens coalition and becoming the strongest party in the state", Laschet declared.

Voter turnout was markedly higher than five years prior, officials said, with 65.2 percent turning out to cast their ballots. The party landed an unprecedented victory past year by defeating Merkel's party in her home state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. But that support failed to translate into votes in the last two state elections, when the CDU won comfortably. She said it's sad the party lost so many districts and she "takes personal responsibility for this defeat".

"This was a committed election, but it wasn't enough".

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She also urged voters to look at her government's economic record - with 7.5 percent unemployment, the state fares worse than the national rate of 5.8 percent, she said. Her party's election victory in Germany's most populous state on Sunday highlights her pull among voters as Merkel vows to hold the European Union together, defends free trade and rebuffs President Donald Trump's pressure to accelerate defense spending.

"It's a hard day for the SPD, a hard day for me personally", Schulz told supporters in Berlin. "I hail from the state where we just suffered a crushing election defeat", Schulz stated. North-Rhine Westphalia was previously a stronghold for the SPD.

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

It is home to 17.9 million people, almost a quarter of Germany's population, and is also the home state of Merkel's Social Democratic challenger in the September 24 national election, Martin Schulz — though he wasn't on the ballot Sunday. The CDU won 34.5 percent, up from 26.3 percent in 2012, according to an exit poll on public broadcaster ARD just after polls closed. This means that the anti-immigrant party will now be present in 13 out of Germany's 16 state parliaments. They gave the Greens, the junior coalition partner in the state government, only 6%. About 13 million of North Rhine Westphalia " s 18 million residents were eligible to vote, representing more than one-fifth of the total national electorate.

The SPD fell to 30.5 per cent from 39.1 per cent. The CDU only ruled in NRW for five years during that half century, from 2005 until 2010. "Firstly, because he himself comes from here [this federal state]; secondly, this federal land has always been a mainstay, the main springboard of the SPD, and thirdly, the election here can be viewed as a kind of a general rehearsal [before the big day in September]", Deutsche Welle wrote.

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