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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is facing more pressure over his approach to the Ukraine war after his party suffered a historic loss in a state election.
Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD) were soundly defeated by the main opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Sunday's vote in North Rhine-Westphalia.
In Germany's most populous state of nearly 18 million people, the CDU secured 35.7% of the vote, while the SPD slumped to 26.7%.
The nine-point lead for the Conservatives came as a surprise to analysts, who had predicted a closer race in the centre-left stronghold.
Meanwhile, Scholz's coalition partner the Greens more than doubled their share to 18.2% — a record for the party in the North Rhine-Westphalia.
The pro-business Free Democrats saw a big drop in support to just 5.6% of the vote -- a result that party leader and German Finance Minister Christian Lindner called “disastrous".
The CDU’s national leader, Friedrich Merz, argued that foreign and security policy played a significant role and that was “decidedly negative” for Scholz’s party.
The chancellor himself has often been criticised for indecision and initially hesitating to break tradition and send heavy weapons to Kyiv.
But the SPD said on Monday it saw no need to alter the German leader’s approach to the war in Ukraine.
"There is no need to change anything," the party's co-leader Lars Klingbeil told reporters on Monday.
He said he saw clear support during the campaign for "not turning off the gas tap overnight so as not to endanger jobs in an industrial state like North Rhine-Westphalia.”
But Klingbeil conceded that the party needed to do a better job of communicating what it is doing for ordinary voters.
“The government’s policy has made clear that we stand beside Ukraine without ifs or buts, but we allowed there to be too much talk about weapons deliveries and too little about rising living costs and too little about rising energy prices,” he said.
Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Scholz “is firmly convinced that a level-headed, carefully considered course in Ukraine policy is a course that is important and is also supported by large parts of the population.”
The German Chancellor declared in February that the Russian invasion of Ukraine marked a “turning point” and has announced a significant increase in military spending.
Sunday's result is the second regional election defeat for the SPD this month, following an earlier vote in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.