Germans vote in state poll, big test for Merkel

* State poll is first vote since Sept’s federal election

* Poll is widely seen as referendum on Merkel’s government

* At stake is Merkel government’s majority in upper house

By Paul Carrel

BERLIN, May 9 (BestGrowthStock) – Germans vote in a state election
on Sunday that risks weakening Chancellor Angela Merkel’s
government just months into her second term in office.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their
Free Democrat (FDP) allies must hold onto power in the state of
North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) to keep her federal government’s
majority in the Bundesrat upper house of parliament.

The vote in Germany’s most populous state is seen as a
referendum on Merkel’s roughly six-month old government. It has
been eclipsed by Merkel’s decision to release billions of euros
in aid to Greece, a move deeply unpopular with voters.

“The election is extremely important because it is the first
vote after the federal election and the poll in this big German
state is being seen as a test for her,” said Gerd Langguth,
political scientist at Bonn University and biographer of Merkel.

There are some 13.5 million eligible voters in NRW and its
economy is roughly the same size as those of Poland and the
Czech Republic combined.

A defeat for the CDU and the FDP in the state would end
their majority in the Bundesrat and cause delays in the
delivering policies — including tax cuts — that they agreed
after last September’s federal election.

Opinion polls show the CDU and the FDP, whose alliance in
NRW mirrors a similar power-sharing deal at federal level, are
short of the support they need to clinch a majority in the
western state.

Merkel has faced criticism from opposition parties for her
handling of the Greece crisis after she initially resisted
granting aid due to massive popular opposition to a bailout.

After backing a Greek rescue package, Merkel said last week
the plan must succeed or other European countries may suffer the
same fate. She has also rounded on financial market speculators
for exaggerating tensions in the euro zone. [ID:nBAT005415]

Five years ago, a defeat in NRW led then-chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder to call an early election that he lost to Merkel.

No one is expecting anything that dramatic this time around,
but a defeat for CDU premier Juergen Ruettgers could signal a
shift in the political tide in Germany, which has been moving in
favour of the CDU for much of the past decade.

Anything short of a CDU-FDP win would be a blow to Merkel.

“If the CDU loses its majority with the FDP, which is to be
expected, it would not be a catastrophe but it would certainly
make things more complicated and difficult for the chancellor,”
said Langguth.

For Questions and Answers on the importance of the NRW vote,
double click on [ID:nLDE6431L4]

For coalition options and the implications of the NRW vote,
double click on [ID:nLDE6441BN]

For a Factbox on NRW, double click on [ID:nLDE64318P]

(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Maria

Germans vote in state poll, big test for Merkel