Merkel wins key state election, paves way for national polls
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) won a key state election on May 14, according to exit polls.
The CDU won 34.5% of all votes in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), as compared to 26.3% in 2012, allowing it to defeat the incumbent Social Democrats (SPD).
The victory has boosted the CDU's hopes of retaining power in the national election in September.
Merkel's party win crucial state elections
Merkel's CDU defeats SPD in its bastion
The NRW state is Germany's most populous and includes Cologne, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr industrial area. It has been ruled by SPD for 46 of the last 51 years. The CDU only once unseated SPD from power in NRW, from 2005 to 2010.
Merkel's rival SPD has lost 4th consecutive state election
The SPD, which won 39.1% votes in 2012 to gain power in NRW, were down to 30.5%.
This was the third straight state electoral defeat for the SPD since March, which may hamper their chances of denying a fourth term as Chancellor in the September 24 national election.
The SPD's coalition Greens party won around 6% votes, clearly making them short of a majority.
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No clear majority
CDU: Accomplished goal of becoming strongest party in NRW
It remains unclear whether the CDU's preferred coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), collectively have enough votes to form a majority in NRW. The FDP is projected to win 12% votes.
"We accomplished our two goals: defeating the SPD-Greens coalition and becoming the strongest party in the state," said CDU leader Armin Laschet.
The ultra-right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 7.5% votes.
SPD concedes defeat, says it lost "important state election"
Hannelore Kraft, the premiere of NRW, has conceded defeat and said she would resign as SPD's state leader.
"It's sad we lost so many districts. I take personal responsibility for this defeat ...," she said.
Martin Schulz, the SPD's national leader and candidate for chancellor in the next national elections, said: "We lost an important state election."