Monday, January 21 11:31:46
In an extremely tight German state election that seemed to produce few clearcut winners, there was no argument over who the biggest loser was - Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Her Christian Democrats (CDU), led in Lower Saxony by rising star David McAllister, had convinced themselves over the past week that they were on the verge of a stunning come-from-behind victory in the northwestern state, a major agricultural and industrial region that is Germany's closest approximation to a U.S.-style swing state.
But on Sunday, they came up agonisingly short, losing power to the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, who together managed to win one more seat in the state assembly than the centre-right.
It is a bitter defeat for the 58-year-old chancellor, even if she remains a strong favourite to win a third term in a federal election eight months from now.
"It is a setback. I won't pretend it isn't, and it hurts all the more because it was so close," Hermann Groehe, a close Merkel ally and general secretary of the CDU, told German radio.
In one fell swoop, the result gives the centre-left a majority in the Bundesrat upper house of parliament, meaning the opposition can block major legislation from Merkel's government and initiate laws themselves.
That will not change after the national election in September, even if Merkel's centre-right coalition with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) manages to hold onto power.
In the run-up to the federal vote, Merkel's room for manoeuvre will be limited, and the notoriously risk-averse German leader may take a more cautious stance on a range of policy issues, including her management of the euro zone debt crisis.
"I assume it won't be possible to push anything through the Bundesrat that the SPD doesn't want," said Volker Kauder, leader of the CDU in parliament. (C ) Reuters