Berlin: In an extremely tight German state election that seemed to produce few clear cut winners, there was no question who the biggest loser was — Angela Merkel. Her Christian Democrats (CDU), led by local star David McAllister, had convinced themselves over the past week that they were on the verge of a come-from-behind victory to keep control of Lower Saxony, a vast agricultural and industrial region. But on Sunday, they came up short, losing the state to the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, who together won one more seat in the state assembly than the centre-right.
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. It is a bitter defeat for the 58-year-old chancellor, even if she remains popular and a strong favourite to win a third term in a federal election eight months from now.
"I'm not going to pretend. After all the feelings generated by this election, defeat hurts even more," Angela told a news conference in Berlin, standing alongside a gloomy-looking McAllister. "We are all sad today. Sad that it didn't work out." The centre-left will keep control of the upper house after the national election in September, even if Merkel's centre-right coalition with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) manages to hold
In the run-up to the vote, Angela'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 the euro zone debt crisis.