Center-left strongest in Berlin elections

Associated Press
Supporters of the Pirate Party celebrate after the first exit polls have been published after the Berlin state elections in Berlin Sundey, Sept. 18, 2011. Preliminary results show that voters in Berlin have returned the center-left Social Democratic mayor to his seat, while the technology-friendly Pirate Party has made its debut in a German legislature. (AP Photo/dapd, Adam Berry)
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BERLIN (AP) — Berlin voters gave Angela Merkel's center-right coalition a drubbing in regional elections, returning the center-left Social Democratic mayor to his seat and welcoming a young, new party in Sunday balloting.

The technology-friendly Pirate Party made its debut in a German legislature, capturing 8.9 percent of the vote. Formed in 2006, the party was able to win widespread support from young Berliners. The Pirate Party has expanded its platform from its original push from file sharing and data protection on the Internet to include education and citizens rights.

"We will get right to work," top Pirate candidate, Andreas Baum, told ZDF television after the preliminary result was published. "This is all new for us."

The biggest losers were the Free Democrats, Merkel's coalition partner at the national level. They won only 2 percent of the vote, far short of the 5 percent needed to win seats in the regional legislature, provisional official results showed. The loss in Berlin, which is both a city and a state, is its fifth loss at the regional level this year.

"We will retreat into a phase of reflection to figure out how to make the party attractive to the people who share our views," Free Democrat general secretary Christian Lindner said after the election.

In the last week of the campaign, the Free Democrats focused on the unpopularity of bailouts for other eurozone countries, raising the possibility of an "orderly insolvency" for Greece — a move that created tension within Merkel's government.

Lindner vowed that his party would continue its course at the national level, insisting the party seeks "stability for Europe," although Merkel has warned members of her government to "choose their words carefully."

The Christian Democrat candidate for Berlin, Frank Henkel, called the Free Democrats' attempt to use the problems within the 17-member eurozone to garner support in Berlin "irresponsible."

"This FDP needs to consider whether it wants to continue this populist course against Germany and against Europe," Henkel said.

Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats also experienced another setback, capturing only 23.2 percent of the vote, behind the center-left Social Democrats, who won 28.7 percent.

In third place were the pro-environment Greens, with 18.4 percent of the vote.

Although Mayor Klaus Wowereit is returning to his seat, he will have to build a new coalition in Berlin, after a weak showing by his previous partner, the Left party. They earned 11.5 percent.

Wowereit supporters chanted, "Wowi, Wowi" as he addressed the party following the vote.

Polls have indicated that Berlin citizens would welcome a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Greens.

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