Pirate Party

Esther Bintliff

German politician Stephan Weil (SPD) is seen on an election poster next to a half torn one of the incumbent state premier David McAllister in Lower Saxony (AFP/GettyImages)

A poster for Social Democrat Stephan Weil next to one of the CDU's David McAllister (AFP/GettyImages)

Voters handed a narrow victory to Germany’s centre-left opposition in Lower Saxony on Sunday. ‘But it’s only a regional election!’, you cry. Here’s why it matters:

1) The vote in Lower Saxony is considered a dry run for Germany’s general election in September this year.

The defeat of Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition in the swing state on Sunday – albeit by one seat – is a blow to the Chancellor. It emboldens her opponents, the centre-left alliance of the Social Democrats and Green party, who won power with 69 seats compared to the 68 seats of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led coalition. Merkel is still favourite to win in September – particularly because her personal ratings in the polls are excellent – but Lower Saxony suggests she has a battle ahead.

2) Merkel’s party, the CDU, lost power due to the downward drag of its coalition partner, the Free Democrat Party (FDP) – and the fear is that this effect could be replicated in the national elections.

Merkel’s own party still came top in Lower Saxony, with 36% of the vote, but in coalition politics, it’s all about team performance – and the chancellor’s chosen teammate let her down. The voting results slightly hide this: on first glance, the FDP did far better expected, winning 9.9%, compared to polling that showed them with just over 5% last week.