German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party has suffered poor results in two key regional votes seen as major tests ahead of September’s general election.
The Christian Democrats (CDU) won about a quarter of the vote in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, early results show.
The party has historically enjoyed strong support in these western states.
Mrs Merkel is due to step down as German chancellor in September, after 16 years in office.
Germany is a federal state made up of 16 regions. Under this system, there are elections to regional legislatures as well as those to the national parliament, called the Bundestag.
The slump in the CDU vote comes amid anger in Germany at the slow pace of the coronavirus vaccine rollout and a mask procurement scandal.
Several conservative lawmakers have quit over allegations they received huge commissions for arranging government deals to buy face masks.
Speaking to the BBC, the CDU MP Kai Whittaker said the results were disappointing.
“It’s a bad day for us,” he said. “So, we cannot deny that there’s a risk that we’re losing touch with the people.”
What do the preliminary results show?
In Baden-Württemberg the Green Party is predicted to hang on to power with about 32% of the vote, with the CDU getting 24%, less than at the previous poll in 2016.
In neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) are projected to retain power with about 35%.
The CDU had led in opinion polls but is predicted to get only 27% of the vote.
CDU Secretary-general Paul Ziemiak said it was “not a good election evening for the CDU”.
Both results pave the way for regional alliances between the Greens, the SPD and the liberal Free Democrats.
This raises the prospect of a similar coalition forming a federal, or national, government after the general election in September.
The SPD’s candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz said it showed a government without the CDU or its sister party the CSU could be possible. “A lot is possible,” he said.
Green Party Chairman Robert Habeck said the party would “take this success as a tailwind for the Bundestag election campaign”.
Opinion polls show the CDU’s national popularity slipping from 40% last June, when Germany was being praised for its initial response to the coronavirus pandemic, to about 33% this month.
Who will be the CDU’s candidate for chancellor?
In January the CDU elected centrist Armin Laschet as its leader but he is not guaranteed to be the party’s candidate for chancellor in September’s election.
His rival for the role is Markus Söder, leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party the CSU. The party aims to have the matter settled by late May.