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Scholz faces a tricky electoral test in the party’s former stronghold

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(Bloomberg) – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz faces another tough electoral test on Sunday, with polls suggesting his Social Democratic party could suffer a second setback in a week in a regional poll.

Some 13.2 million people are eligible to vote in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, a heavily industrialized western region that was once an SPD stronghold but is ruled by the Union Christian Democrat since the last elections in 2017.

The latest vote is also taking place under the shadow of war in Ukraine. Scholz’s approval rating plummeted after he was criticized at home and abroad for dragging his feet on supplying kyiv with heavy weapons and for blocking an immediate ban on Russian energy imports.

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Just last week, the SPD suffered its first defeat in regional elections since Scholz came to power in December, falling to a historic low in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. The CDU, the main national opposition party, won thanks to its popular incumbent president.

In a poll for NRW released on Thursday, support for the SPD stood at 29%, two points below its election result five years ago. The CDU, led by current state premier Hendrik Wuest, was at 32%, down one percentage point from 2017, according to the survey by public broadcaster ZDF.

The first exit polls on Sunday are expected to be released at 6 p.m. local time.

The Greens are expected to nearly triple their vote share, coming in third with 17% and continuing to rise since joining the ruling coalition in Berlin with the SPD and the business-friendly Liberal Democratic Party.

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The FDP, the current government’s junior partner in NRW, is expected to lose around half of its support at 6%, while the far-right Alternative for Germany is seen as stable at around 7%. Another poor performance by the FDP could increase tensions within the ruling coalition at the federal level.

Even if the SPD comes second, its candidate Thomas Kutschaty has hinted that he could try to form a government with the Greens and the FDP. Due to declining support for the FDP, Wuest would have to convince the Greens to join a coalition government so that he could remain regional prime minister.

Scholz responded to criticism of his Ukrainian policy by approving the delivery of some heavy weapons and playing a more visible role on the international stage. His government has also backed European Union plans to stop Russian oil and coal imports.

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This change was welcomed this week by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba during a visit to Germany. In an interview with state broadcaster ARD on Thursday, Kuleba said Germany was now a driving force in Europe to supply arms to his country and impose tougher sanctions on Russia.

Scholz’s party won a landslide victory in a regional vote in Saarland in late March. The SPD took control of the small western state for the first time in 23 years and enough seats to govern without a coalition partner. Support for the CDU fell by more than 12 percentage points, partly due to a weak campaign by the incumbent prime minister.

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