Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party's top candidate Kai Wegner (left) celebrates with CDU party members after the first exit poll results for the Berlin state's repeat elections at the State parliament in Berlin on Feb 12, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

BERLIN – Germany's conservative CDU party was course for a clear victory in a repeat election in Berlin, in a blow to Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats who have governed the city state for 22 years.

An exit poll by broadcaster ZDF on Sunday put the Christian Democrats (CDU) on 28 percent of the vote, 10 percentage points more than in the 2021 election, which a court was ruled invalid due to irregularities.

The Social Democrats, who have governed the German capital in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and hard-left Die Linke, scored 18.2 percent. The Greens and Die Linke were on 18.2 percent and 12.8 percent of the vote respectively.

Berlin's left-wing mayor Franziska Giffey acknowledged the election defeat but said the CDU would still need a stable majority to govern in the city

"Berlin chose change", CDU top candidate Kai Wegner said of the results, adding that there was a clear mandate for his party to form a state government.

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Wegner invited both the Greens and the SPD to exploratory talks over possibly forming a new coalition.

Berlin's left-wing mayor Franziska Giffey acknowledged the election defeat but said the CDU would still need a stable majority to govern in the city.

"We have to be very clear that this result is first shows that Berliners are not satisfied with the way things are now. They wish things would be different," Giffey said.

Despite the CDU win, the so-called red-green-red coalition – named after the parties' colors – still has a majority at the city of Berlin's House of Representatives.

Susanne Mertens, Greens co-leader in the state and the Greens top candidate Bettina Jarasch both said the party would prefer to continue the coalition with the SPD and Die Linke.

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"Our preference is the government alliance with red-red," Mertens told Reuters. Talk of a possible two-way coalition with the CDU was received with booing at the Greens election party on Sunday.

But even if the Greens and SPD decide to continue with the current coalition, Giffey could lose her job to Jarasch, depending on which party comes second.

An ARD poll showed the Greens nudging ahead with 18.5 percent and the SPD at 18.3 percent.

The repeat vote, ordered after the September 2021 election was marred by irregularities including long queues and voters receiving incorrect ballot cards, is one more item on the charge sheet for those who see Berlin as a sclerotic mess that belies Germany's reputation for efficiency.

The German capital made headlines earlier this year after youth riots that erupted on New Year's Eve, rekindled a debate over immigration and making security in the city a top priority for Berliners, a central topic in the CDU's election campaign.

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The CDU will be hoping the victory in Berlin will put wind in its sails ahead of October's vote in the state of Hesse, home to Germany's financial capital Frankfurt, where a conservative premier risks losing office to another Scholz ally.

The vote could also complicate life for the SPD by depriving its federal coalition of more votes in the upper house of parliament.