Center-left government of major German state loses majority

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BERLIN (AP) — The center-left governor of one of Germany's biggest states said Friday that he would seek an early regional election after a lawmaker's defection to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives cost his coalition government its majority.

The unexpected developments in Lower Saxony were a symbolic blow to Germany's struggling left ahead of a national election on Sept. 24 in which Merkel is seeking a fourth term.

Since 2013, a coalition of governor Stephan Weil's Social Democrats and the Greens has run the state in northwestern Germany that is home to automaker Volkswagen among other companies.

The coalition had a single-seat majority in the state legislature until Green lawmaker Elke Twesten left her caucus Friday.

Twesten, whose old party hadn't nominated her to represent her constituency in the next state vote, said she plans to join Merkel's Christian Democrats. If the party's caucus accepts her, that would give two center-right parties a one-seat majority and the chance to oust Weil. A state election was already due in January.

Merkel's Social Democratic challenger in the national election, Martin Schulz, accused Twesten in a Facebook post of "betrayal of the voters" as well as of the center-left coalition.

Weil made clear that he wouldn't quit, saying it was up to voters to determine who holds a majority.

"I will gladly face the will of the voters at any time, but I will not give way to an intrigue," he told reporters in Hannover.

Weil said it was essential for the state legislature to dissolve itself and for a new election to take place "as soon as possible."

It's not clear when an early regional election could be held. In theory at least, it could take place the same day as the national election.

National polls show the Social Democrats under Schulz trailing longtime German leader Merkel's conservatives by a double-digit margin. They are currently Merkel's junior partners in the national coalition government, an arrangement that both sides are keen to end.

Friday's events "show once again that (the Social Democrats and Greens) simply can't govern reliably," Peter Tauber, the general secretary of Merkel's party, told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group.

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