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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 10:51 GMT
Schroeder reeling at poll bombshell
Gerhard Schroeder
Schroeder's popularity has tumbled since re-election
Beleaguered German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has suffered crushing defeats in two key state elections.

His Social Democrats lost power in his home state, Lower Saxony, and support for them slumped in Hesse, official preliminary results show.


Lower Saxony

Christian Democrats 48.3% -up 12.4
Social Democrats 33.4% - down 14.5
Free Democrats 8.1%
Greens 7.6%


Christian Democrats 48.8% - up 5.4%
Social Democrats 29.1% - down 10.3
Greens 10.1% - up 2.9
Free Democrats 7.9% - up 2.8
Source: Official preliminary results
The elections were seen as a crucial test for Mr Schroeder, reeling from the effects of economic problems, unemployment and rising taxes.

His government, narrowly re-elected four months ago, has been floundering in the polls ever since.

Even his popular anti-war stance in Iraq could not save him from the voters' backlash, analysts say. In Lower Saxony, the Social Democrats' support plummeted about 14 points to 33%.

In Hesse, the drop was 10 points, to 29.1%.

In both states, the main beneficiaries were the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) who will probably form a coalition with the Free Democrats in Lower Saxony and retain an absolute majority in Hesse.

The CDU Governor of Hesse, Premier Roland Koch, enjoys beer
CDU leaders had good reasons to celebrate
The results give the CDU - the parliamentary opposition - an increased majority in the federal upper house, the Bundesrat. It will force Mr Schroeder to co-operate with the CDU to get laws passed.

About 10 million people were eligible to vote in the two states.

Casting his vote in Lower Saxony, Chancellor Schroeder refused to answer questions about his party's popularity.

"This is not an election to the Bundestag [federal lower house of parliament]," he told reporters.

'Important signal'

The CDU's leader, Angela Merkel, expressed satisfaction with the results, stressing that Germans did not support Mr Schroeder's policy of antagonising the US on the Iraq issue.

"This is an important signal to the European allies and the American Government," Ms Merkel told the Associated Press news agency.

Queues form outside German job centres
Germany is suffering from soaring unemployment

"I think much is at stake for German foreign policy," she said, adding that the CDU had a valuable friendship with the US "not just out of gratitude but because of the long-term security of Europe and Germany".

But correspondents say that, paradoxically, the regional losses may translate into a boost for some of Mr Schroeder's reforms.

The conservative Christian Democrats are more likely than Mr Schroeder's own Social Democrats to support his tough business-friendly reform proposals.

Chancellor Schroeder's government has tumbled further and faster in the opinion polls than any other post-World War II government.

Despite the popularity of the anti-war theme which helped re-elect him last year, backing for Mr Schroeder has plummeted in the face of growing economic woes at home.

The SPD said it would not make any changes to its line-up at a national level.

The BBC's Katya Adler in Berlin
"A double disaster for the Social Democrats"
Friedbeit Pflueger, CDU Foreign Affairs Spokesman
"Gerhard Schroder is responsible for a double malaise of German politics"
Michael Naumann, Cheif Editor, Die Zeit
"Schroder will not be overthrown; he is not a quitter"
See also:

03 Feb 03 | Media reports
03 Feb 03 | Business
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12 Nov 02 | Entertainment
07 Dec 02 | Europe
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