In a stinging rebuff to Chancellor Helmut Kohl after he broke a campaign promise and raised taxes, voters have ousted the German leader's Christian Democratic Union from the government of his home state.
Sunday's election in the southwestern state of Rhineland-Palatinate was the first in Germany since Kohl's center-right coalition swept to an easy national election victory in December, when unification euphoria prevailed.The conservative Christian Democrats had controlled the state's government for 44 years. Now, it will be run by a Social Democrat-dominated coalition.
Kohl, celebrated as the architect of German unification just months ago, has seen his popularity slump as the economy collapses in the lands that until October comprised Communist East Germany.
His national government to 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.
However, a majority in the Bundesrat may give the Social Democrats leverage to affect policy on integrating eastern Germany, where they put more stress on keeping failing industries alive.
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.
The Christian Democrats won 38.7 percent and 40 seats; while the centrist Free Democrats got 6.9 percent and seven seats. The leftist Greens won 6.4 percent and seven seats.
Other parties won 3.1 percent of the votes, including 2.0 percent for the far-right Republicans, below the 5 percent required to enter the legislature.
The Greens are eager to form a coalition with the Social Democrats, but the Social Democrats said they wanted to negotiate with both the Free Democrats and the Greens.
The outgoing Christian Democratic governor, Carl-Ludwig Wagner, said local issues played some role but he placed most blame on what he called "difficulties in the unification area."
"Those were hard to take," he said.
Rudolf Scharping, the bearded 43-year-old Social Democrat who will become governor, credited "massive disappointment of many people over Bonn's policies."
His party swung about 7 percent of votes away from Kohl's party compared with the May 1987 election in the state.