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German Opposition Suffers Setback in Bavarian Local Elections - 2002-03-04


Germany's center-right opposition suffered serious setbacks in its Bavarian stronghold on Sunday, a surprise that supporters of Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder take as an early indication he could also do well in national elections later this year.

The populist leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, Edmond Stoiber, was hoping his home state would give his national ambitions a boost. He faces Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in September elections.

But instead, Bavaria gave the Social Democrats a boost. They strengthened their hold on Bavaria's main city, Munich. Even in Mr. Stoiber's home town of Wolfrathshausen, Social Democrat Mayor Rainer Berchtold increased his vote. And that was despite Mr. Stoiber's personal campaigning on behalf of the CSU challenger.

In Munich, the state's business and industrial capital, where Mr. Stoiber's claim to be a better economic manager than the chancellor might have been expected to pay off, the Social Democrat Mayor Christian Ude took almost 65 percent of the vote. That's up nearly four percent on his previous score.

Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein acknowledged the results were an unpleasant surprise. Mayor Ude said the chancellor himself had spoken to him of "a good and encouraging day" for the Social Democrats.

But it's still six months before Mr. Stoiber and Mr. Schroeder have to lead their parties and allies into the federal elections. And as Mr. Stoiber's supporters were quick to point out, it is hard to judge from a turnout of just a little over 50 percent exactly how things will look nationwide in September.

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