* Merkel's allies regain absolute majority lost in 2008
* CSU's success boosts chancellor for German vote
* FDP coalition partners ejected from assembly
By Christiaan Hetzner
MUNICH, Sept 15 Angela Merkel's allies swept to
victory in a state election in Bavaria on Sunday, regaining the
absolute assembly majority they lost in 2008 and providing a
show of conservative strength for the chancellor a week before
Germany goes to the polls.
The Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party of Merkel's
Christian Democrats (CDU), won 49 percent according to TV
projections, putting them back more firmly in the saddle of the
prosperous southern state they have governed for 56 years.
But the Bavarian ballot also delivered a worrying message
for Merkel, as the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), with whom
she governs Germany in a centre-right coalition, slumped to just
3 percent, below the 5 percent level needed for assembly seats.
"The CSU is a people's party and we are deeply rooted in the
Bavarian population. Every second Bavarian voted for us," state
premier Horst Seehofer told elated supporters - fulfilling a
pledge to Merkel that his party would help set an upbeat tone
for the national poll on Sept. 22.
The FDP sought to put a brave face on Sunday's disastrous
result, which thwarted recent upward momentum for the party.
"This is a heavy defeat... but our response now is: let's
get going ... Bavaria is different. Now it is about Germany,"
said party leader Philipp Roesler, calling it a "wake-up call".
Merkel, whose conservative bloc stands at around 40 percent,
needs the FDP to do well in the federal vote to avoid having to
turn to the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), with whom she
governed in her first term from 2005-2009. The FDP stands at
around 5 percent nationally.
"Voters like winners. Such a strong signal from Bavaria will
mobilise Merkel's supporters. On the other hand, such a bad
result for the FDP could activate their voters," said Thomas
Jaeger, political scientist at Cologne University.
Its poor showing in Bavaria might scare conservatives into
giving their second vote to the FDP, potentially weakening the
share of votes for Merkel's CDU. Germans pick a constituency
candidate with their first vote, and the second vote determines
the relative strength of the parties in the Bundestag.
Senior CDU lawmakers moved quickly on Sunday to dissuade
conservatives from splitting their vote next week. "The second
vote is the 'Merkel vote', and we want it for our party," said
CDU General Secretary Hermann Groehe.
A new anti-euro party, the Alternative fuer Deutschland,
(AfD) which may yet upset Merkel's coalition hopes and scrape
into parliament, did not stand in Bavaria, which has its own
Eurosceptic party the Freie Waehler.
Projections put the SPD on 21 percent in Bavaria, behind
their national standing of around 26 percent, and their Greens
partners on 8 percent. The Freie Waehler polled 9 percent,
making them the third strongest party.
Bavaria is home to 12.5 million of Germany's 80.5 million
people and if it were a country, it would have the euro zone's
sixth largest population and economy. The state cherishes its
strong regional identity and is fiercely proud of its careful
state spending and "laptop and lederhosen" economy.
It is the only state with a regional party in the federal
parliament, because when other regional conservative parties
joined to form the CDU, the CSU chose to remain separate. CSU
lawmakers make up nearly a quarter of Merkel's bloc.
The party was dealt a blow in 2008's regional election when
it slumped to 43 percent, forcing it into a union with the FDP.