German center-left party seen winning election in country's smallest state, but losing ground



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BERLIN — Germany's main center-left party won an election Sunday in the country's smallest state, Bremen, and is expected to prolong its decades-long dominance there despite losing significant support, exit polls indicated.

Bremen has been led by the center-left Social Democrats since the 1940s. Exit polls for ARD and ZDF television showed them winning around 33 percent of the vote, down from more than 38 percent four years ago.

The polls also pointed to a thin majority at best in the state legislature for Mayor Jens Boehrnsen's current coalition with the Greens, who also lost ground.

Still, his party was well ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, who are traditionally weak in Bremen but improved their tally modestly to about 23 percent. The conservatives have previously served as a junior governing party in Bremen.

About 500,000 people were eligible to vote in Bremen, which is financially weak and has an unemployment rate of 11.1 percent — the highest of any German state.

The pro-business Free Democrats, former partners in Merkel's national government who are still trying to claw their way back after being ejected from the federal parliament two years ago, were set to re-enter Bremen's legislature with 6.5 percent of the vote, the exit polls showed.

The polls put support for the two-year-old Alternative for Germany party, which advocates an end to the euro currency in its current form and talks tough on immigration, at about 5 percent — the minimum the party needs to enter the state legislature.

At national level, polls show a strong lead for Merkel's party over the Social Democrats, who are her junior partners in the federal government.

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