According to the preliminary official results, the CDU won the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia. As the state election management announced on Monday night in Düsseldorf, Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst’s Christian Democrats received 35.7 percent of the votes, well ahead of challenger Thomas Kutschaty’s Social Democrats with 26.7 percent. The Greens around top candidate Mona Neubaur came in third with a record result of 18.2 percent, while the FDP and AfD are still represented in the Düsseldorf state parliament with 5.9 percent and 5.4 percent respectively.

After the victory of CDU Prime Minister Hendrik Wüst, the search for a new government alliance begins. The 46-year-old said on Sunday that he had the task of “forming and leading a future government”. His previous black-yellow coalition no longer has a majority because the FDP collapsed. Therefore, an alliance with the Greens is in the room, which brought in a record result. Wüst said that there were two winners: the Greens and his CDU.

However, the collapsed SPD, as a second force, still harbors the hope of coming to power together with the Greens and the FDP in a traffic light alliance. “I’m ready,” said Kuchaty at the SPD election party in Düsseldorf. The victory of the CDU and the strong result of the Greens did not automatically mean that both formed a government, said the SPD state chairman. There are certainly other options conceivable.

SPD federal leader Lars Klingbeil sees it similarly, but formulated later in the ARD program “Anne Will” more cautiously than immediately after the end of the election: “Mr. Wüst is the winner, he leads the strongest party, and that’s why I assume it , he is leading the talks and he needs to have talks now and then we will see if he can form a government.”

Former SPD federal chairman Norbert Walter-Borjans also urged modesty. “On an evening like this, when you’ve missed your own goals by a long way, it’s not a moment where you blow your cheeks and make demands,” he told the German Press Agency in Düsseldorf.

For the SPD, the election in North Rhine-Westphalia is another setback. A week after the crushing defeat in Schleswig-Holstein, it was again not enough for the party to get past the CDU. The party achieved its worst state election result in the so-called “heart chamber of social democracy”.

The election is also a disappointment for Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The war in Ukraine and the course taken by the federal government had overshadowed the election campaign in North Rhine-Westphalia. Kuchaty had deliberately sought proximity to Scholz. The two had appeared together several times, and the top candidate and the chancellor had campaigned together for the SPD on election posters.

But the 53-year-old lawyer could still become prime minister. On the early evening of the election, it was initially unclear whether a coalition between the SPD and the Greens could be just enough. A traffic light coalition with the FDP would have a secure majority. SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert announced his party’s exploratory talks despite the weak result. “Of course, the runner-up can also negotiate a government,” he said on ZDF.

The Greens around top candidate Mona Neubaur now seem to be kingmakers for the coming state government.

The party roughly tripled its 2017 election result and achieved its best result in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Greens had deliberately not decided on a preferred partner before the election day. They are now faced with the decision of whether they want to enter into a black-green alliance with Wüst as prime minister.

This decision should also depend on whether the election night is a success or a setback for the new CDU chairman Friedrich Merz. Unlike in Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, the man from Sauerland was heavily involved in the election campaign in his home country. Within the party, the election was the first indicator for Merz, who has been at the head of the Christian Democrats since the end of January.

After the debacle in Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, the left failed to enter a state parliament in the third state election this year. In 2017, after gaining votes, the party narrowly failed to pass the 5 percent hurdle with 4.9 percent of the votes. This time, after internal party trouble, Metoo cases and disputes about future Russia policy, it was only 2.0 percent according to the extrapolation.

The AfD had to tremble to re-enter the Düsseldorf state parliament. The figures saw the radical right-wing party at 5.5 percent of the vote. In 2017, the AfD had already received a significantly weaker result of 7.4 percent than in the eastern German states. A week ago, the right-wingers in Kiel were kicked out of a state parliament for the first time.

During the election campaign, Wüst and Kuchaty had to struggle with awareness and popularity problems. In the only TV duel in the past week, they appeared harmoniously. In terms of content, the two men hardly differed, even passages of their election programs they could not tell apart.

Wüst emphasized that the CDU had succeeded in getting more police officers onto the streets in North Rhine-Westphalia and taking a resolute stand against clan crime. Due to the shortage of teachers, Kuchaty called for more career changers in schools and free daycare places nationwide.

13 million people were called to vote in the so-called “small federal election”. Most recently, 20 percent of voters in North Rhine-Westphalia stated that they did not yet know who they wanted to vote for. Voter turnout collapsed compared to 2017. After counting 85 of the 128 constituencies, only 55 percent cast their votes, around ten percentage points fewer than five years ago.