Merkel allies win big in Bavaria: exit polls

BERLIN (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Bavarian allies scored a resounding win in a state vote Sunday, exit polls showed, giving her a strong boost one week ahead of a general election.

The conservative ruling Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats, captured an absolute majority of seats in the regional parliament with 49-per cent of the vote, according to exit polls on public television.

Its outsized victory means it can drop its junior partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), who crashed out of the regional parliament with a disastrous three percent.

Ms Merkel campaigned heavily in the state's world-famous beer tents, pointing out that a big win in Bavaria would lend momentum to her bid for a third term at the helm of Europe's top economic power.

National polls give Ms Merkel's conservatives an around 14-point lead over the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD), who scored about 21 per cent in Bavaria, historically a conservative state. The ecologist Greens turned in a dismal 8.5 percent, in keeping with a downward trend on the national level.

The CSU has ruled Bavaria uninterrupted for 56 years with a winning strategy of "laptops and lederhosen" - high-tech business savvy coupled with proud tradition.

Led by outspoken state premier Horst Seehofer, the CSU saw big gains from its 43 per cent score at the last election in 2008, when it lost its absolute majority.

Some 9.5 million were eligible to vote in the wealthy, predominantly Catholic southern region that is home to German industrial giants such as BMW, Audi and Siemens.

Bavaria is a regional powerhouse in a country that has gone from strength to strength as the eurozone debt crisis ravaged its neighbours.

State unemployment is just 3.8 percent versus 6.8 percent at the national level and the CSU forecasts statistical full employment by 2018, giving Bavarian voters little appetite for change.

It shares that sentiment with much of the rest of the German electorate, a majority of whom tell pollsters they are satisfied with Merkel's leadership.

Pollsters said the poor showing in Bavaria by the FDP, Merkel's coalition partner in Berlin, could in fact give it a boost in the general elections on September 22.