German SPD, Greens seek state vote win after Merkel party crisis

BERLIN (Reuters) – A leadership crisis in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party could help her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners and the environmentalist Greens hold on to power in the northern German city of Hamburg on Sunday.

In the first electoral test since Merkel’s protegee Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer threw her Christian Democrats (CDU) into turmoil two weeks ago by saying she did not want the top job, polls suggest the SPD will remain the biggest party in Hamburg.

The Greens, however, are expected to see the biggest gains, reflecting their strength on the national level, due mainly to growing fears about climate change.

Voters may punish Merkel’s CDU, embroiled in a fierce internal debate about who should take over the party leadership from Kramp-Karrenbauer and run as chancellor in the next federal election, due by Oct. 2021.

Merkel, chancellor of Europe’s biggest economy for almost 15 years, has said she will not seek re-election.

The most recent poll for Hamburg, traditionally an SPD stronghold, put the SPD first on 39% with the Greens about 15 points behind and the CDU trailing by another 12 points.

However, the Greens could roughly double their share of the vote, reflecting their national strength. Capitalising on fears about climate change, they are second behind Merkel’s conservatives at the national level and tipped to be part of the next government.

Local issues such as transport and housing have dominated the campaign in Hamburg, which with its famous fish market and red-light district has a reputation for being one of Germany’s most tolerant cities.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which made big gains in state elections in the former Communist East last year, is relatively weak, polling at around 6%.

Results are due at 6 p.m. (1700 GMT).

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