Chancellor Hel-mut Kohl said Monday his party's ouster from government in his home state was a "bitter defeat" and that his Christian Democratic Union must seek ways to preserve voters' trust.
Sunday's vote in the southwestern Rhineland-Palatinate state was the second consecutive state election loss for Kohl's party since his national election victory in December. The Christian Democrats were ousted from power in Hesse state Jan. 20.The latest loss was seen as a stinging rebuff to Kohl and as an expression of voters' frustration with the high cost of German unification. Just months ago, Kohl was celebrated as the architect of unity.
Heiner Geissler, a leading member of the Christian Democrats, said the party was suffering from a "credibility crisis" that requires a "new beginning."
Kohl convened a meeting of party leaders in Bonn Monday. He later told reporters he had no apologies for his party's policies.
"I am accustomed to winning, and unfortunately accustomed to losing," said the chancellor.
He said Christian Democrats must worker harder to keep voters' trust, saying: "We must examine how we can better address the people."
The Christian Democrats had controlled the government of Rhineland-Palatinate for 44 years. Now, it will be run by a Social Democrat-dominated coalition.
Bjoern Engholm, the Social Democrats' chairman-designate, said state party leaders should strive for stability in deciding whether to form a coalition government with the environmentalist Greens or centrist Free Democrats.
Kohl has seen his popularity slump as the economy collapses in the lands that until October comprised Communist East Germany.
After promising to hold the line on taxes, Kohl's national government raised taxes and telephone tolls to finance the integration of eastern Germany's 16 million people, a quarter of whom are likely to be out of full-time work by summer.
Kohl has been criticized as having miscalculated or sought to obscure the enormity of the economic problems in the east, where decaying, antiquated businesses are shutting down.
With the victory in Rhineland-Palatinate, the left-leaning Social Democrats also wrest control from Kohl's party of the national parliament's upper house or Bundesrat, whose makeup is determined by the outcome of state elections.
The more powerful lower house, the Bundestag, is controlled by the Christian Democrats.
Official results in Sunday's vote gave the Social Democrats 44.8 percent of the vote, good for 47 seats in the 101-seat state legislature.