Scholz’s party maintains Ukrainian politics despite loss of state votes

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party said on Monday it sees no need to change the German leader’s oft-criticized approach to the war in Ukraine after an election in the most populous state of Germany has resulted in a clear defeat for its centre-left social democrats.

Germany’s main opposition party, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union, won 35.7% of the vote to win Sunday’s election in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which has nearly 18 million of inhabitants. He finished nine points ahead of Scholz’s Social Democrats, despite expectations of a closer race in what has long been a centre-left stronghold.

A combination of local and national factors appears to have led to the result, which resulted in a low turnout of just 55.5%. CDU national leader Friedrich Merz argued that foreign and security policy played an important role and that this was “definitely negative” for Scholz’s party.

Scholz said in February that the Russian invasion of Ukraine marked a “turning point” and announced a sharp increase in military spending. The German government has broken with the tradition of supplying arms to Ukraine, but the chancellor has been criticized by the opposition and parts of his own coalition for initially hesitating to send heavy weapons and for sometimes appearing undecided.

However, Social Democrat co-leader Lars Klingbeil said on Monday that “there is nothing to change”.

He said he saw clear support during the campaign for the policy of ‘delivering guns but also weighing things up, not turning off the gas valve overnight so as not to endanger jobs in a state industrial as North Rhine-Westphalia”.

But he admitted the party needs to do a better job of communicating what it does for ordinary voters.

“Government policy has made it clear that we stand with Ukraine with no ifs and no buts, but we have allowed there to be too much talk about arms deliveries and too little about the rising cost of life and too little on rising energy prices,” Klingbeil said.

Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Scholz “strongly believes that a balanced and carefully considered policy in Ukrainian politics is a path that is important and is also supported by a large part of the population.” He stressed that Sunday’s vote was first and foremost a regional election.

Among the other two parties in Scholz’s coalition government, the Green Greens nearly tripled their score to 18.2% on Sunday, while the business-friendly Free Democrats got just 5.9% – losing more than half of their support compared to five years ago. The CDU currently governs the state in a coalition with the Free Democrats, who lost their majority in the state legislature.

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