Merkel dealt big defeat in election
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was heading for a humiliating defeat in a vital election last night in a state that had been in her party's hands since 1953 after a wave of anger over her government's nuclear policy.
Exit polls taken in the eight-million strong economic powerhouse of Baden-Wurttemberg showed that Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats had fallen to a coalition of the Social Democrats and Green Party, which together took a combined vote of 48.5pc.
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democrats, their junior coalition partners, polled 43pc.
The embarrassing result comes around a month after the Christian Democrats suffered a trouncing at the hands of the Social Democrats in Hamburg state elections and a week after they saw their vote slide in Saxony-Anhalt.
The string of results and the loss of a bastion of CDU power could weaken Ms Merkel's grip on the party leadership.
Although overseeing a surging economy and falling unemployment, Ms Merkel attracted withering criticism after she decided to reverse an unpopular decision taken last autumn to extend the lifespans of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors.
Critics condemned the abrupt U-turn and the decision to shut down seven of the oldest reactors pending the results of a safety review as blatant electioneering, claiming that Ms Merkel hoped to capitalise from rising opposition to nuclear energy in Germany following the disaster engulfing the Fukushima reactors in Japan.
Over the weekend, an estimated 200,000 Germans calling for an end to nuclear energy took to the streets across the country.
The Greens looked poised to lead their first coalition at the state level in Germany.
"It's a dream come true . . . we could never have dreamed of a result like this a few days ago," said Franz Untersteller, a Green party spokesman.
Beyond a crushing blow to morale in Berlin, a defeat will make it even harder for Ms Merkel to pass legislation in the Bundesrat upper house.
Political experts said the election defeats and criticism over her policies had dented Ms Merkel's reputation for strong leadership.
More damage to the government was inflicted when the media quoted Rainer Bruderle, the German economy minister, as saying that the power station closure was a media stunt.
Although the minister later denied the comments, Ms Merkel's energy policy lost even further credibility in the eyes of the electorate.
The nuclear debate has had particular significance in Baden-Wurttemberg, which is the site of four nuclear reactors.
The opposition -- in particular the Greens -- also benefited from staunch Christian Democrat support for a controversial remodelling of Stuttgart's 89 year-old railway station that had provoked opposition in the city. (© Daily Telegraph, London)