Center-right seeks to keep power in key German state vote

BERLIN (AP) — Voting opened Sunday in Germany’s most populous state, where the center-right Christian Democrats are hoping to retain power against a challenge from the left.

The election in North Rhine-Westphalia, home to almost 18 million people, is an important test for Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his center-left Social Democratic Party. His government at the national level has faced a challenging start tackling the fallout from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

The Christian Democrats have been governing North Rhine-Westphalia in an alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats since 2017.

Recent polls indicate the alliance could struggle to gain a majority amid a strong challenge from the environmentalist Greens. Alongside education and crime, the issue of tackling the causes and effects of climate change in the state — with its long history of heavy industry — has become an important election issue.

North Rhine-Westphalia was among the regions hit by a devastating flash flood last year that fueled calls to end coal mining in the state. Experts say continued burning of fossil fuels increases the likelihood of such disasters in future.

The Christian Democrats last week won a state vote in Schleswig-Holstein, but lost power to the Social Democrats in tiny Saarland in March.

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