* CDU largest party by a whisker but may lose power
* SPD could form three-way coalition
* Merkel wants third term but must swap partner
By Erik Kirschbaum and Alexandra Hudson
BERLIN, May 6 Chancellor Angela Merkel's
conservatives were in danger of being ousted from power in
another German state on Sunday after the opposition Social
Democrats (SPD) said they wanted to form a three-way coalition
with two smaller centre-left parties.
The Christian Democrats' (CDU) vote fell to 31 percent,
their worst result in the state since 1950, but they were still
just the largest party in the rural region between the Baltic
and North Seas, a projection by Germany's ARD TV network showed.
The SPD, which won 29.9 percent in the northernmost state,
said it wanted to form a coalition with the Greens and South
Schleswig Party (SSW) that represents the ethnic Danish
minority. The three parties would have 35 seats in the 69-seat
Merkel's conservatives have been voted out of power in three
states in the last two years. If knocked out in the
traditionally conservative region of Schleswig-Holstein the CDU
would rule just seven of Germany's 16 states ahead of the 2013
federal election, when Merkel is seeking a third term.
"She'll probably lose another state premier and this will
make things harder for her re-election campaign," said Gero
Neugebauer, political scientist at Berlin's Free University.
"She can't be satisfied about the performance of her
The chancellor's resolute stance through the drama of the
euro zone crisis has left her personal popularity intact. But
her national centre-right coalition has looked in jeopardy after
a slump support for her junior coalition partners, the Free
The pro-business FDP's vote fell to 8 percent in
Schleswig-Holstein from 14.9 percent in the last election in
2009. The party managed to stop the rout that has seen them
ejected from five state assemblies in the last 18 months but its
support was not enough to continue the CDU-FDP coalition in the
"There were two losers in Schleswig-Holstein: the CDU and
the FDP," said SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel.
"If they can't figure that out, that shows they're not very
good at mathematics and that they don't understand German
politics. Parties that lose don't belong in the state
Gabriel, who may lead the SPD into the 2013 election against
Merkel, added the SPD and Greens, who climbed to 13.3 percent
from 12.4 percent, were the big winners of the night along with
the anti-establishment Pirates, who won 8.5 percent of the vote
to enter a third regional assembly.
There had been speculation before the election that the CDU
and SPD would form a "grand coalition" if neither party could
form a coalition with their preferred junior partners.
SPD leaders, who had hoped to form an SPD-Greens coalition,
were surprisingly clear about their desire to enter a somewhat
risky alliance with the SSW even though their attempt to form
such a three-way coalition in 2005 turned into a debacle.
"Schleswig-Holstein needs a stable government," said Hermann
Groehe, the general secretary of Merkel's CDU, in a blunt appeal
to the SPD to form a grand coalition with a large majority than
rely on the one-seat majority with the Greens and SSW.
But Kiel mayor Torsten Albig, the SPD leader in
Schleswig-Holstein, said he was going to pursue a three-way
coalition with the Greens and SSW, which won 4.6 percent but
will still get assembly seats as it is exempted from the five
"We're going to do everything possible to form a government
with the Greens and SSW," Albig said. "That's our goal. If that
doesn't work, we'll see what other coalitions are possible."
The close result in Schleswig-Holstein, home to 2.8 million
people bordering Denmark, means an unusually large number of
coalition options are possible. Coalition talks are not expected
to start in earnest until after next Sunday's election in North
Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany's most populous state.