Exit polls suggest the closely-watched election in the small, west German state of Saarland has swung in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s favour.
Her CDU candidate and regional Prime Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is predicted to win 41 percent of the vote.
Despite Saarland having just 800,000 eligible voters, the first of three regional ballots this year is considered a significant opportunity for parties to build – or lose – momentum ahead of the national election on September 24.
Like federal Germany, Saarland is currently governed by a ‘grand coalition’ of Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD Social Democrats.
Their candidate, Anke Rehlinger, is estimated to have won 29.5 percent of the vote, meaning the most likely outcome will be a continuation of the current two-party government.
‘The Schulz effect’
The vote was also the first electoral test for the “Schulz effect” – the re-energised Social Democrats under their new leader, Martin Schulz.
The former president of the European Parliament has been a shot-in-the-arm for the centre-left SPD. His promise to tackle inequality is resonating with many voters tired of Merkel.