Germany's Bavarians vote with Merkel looking for momentum

Germany's Bavarians vote with Merkel looking for momentum
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) gives autographs to supporters during an election campaign event on September 14, 2013 in Mainz, western Germany (on L can be seen Julia Kloeckner, regional leader of Rhineland-Palatinate's Christian Democratic Union party). General elections will take place in Germany on September 22, 2013.

BERLIN - Voters in Bavaria went to the polls Sunday with Chancellor Angela Merkel hoping her conservatives in the southern state will create momentum ahead of Germany's general elections in a week.

Polls opened at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) with the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, tipped to prevail.

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 is well-placed to recapture the absolute majority in the regional parliament that it lost in 2008.

That would allow it to drop its state coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), and govern alone.

Most importantly, it could give Merkel a boost as she heads into the final week campaigning for a third term at the helm of Europe's top economic power.

"In light of their brilliant poll ratings, should Seehofer and his team fail to clinch an absolute majority, it would be seen as a defeat," the Bavarian-based national daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said.

"Instead of a lift for the federal coalition, it would be a drag on it."

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

Polling stations were to close at 1600 GMT with preliminary results expected a few minutes later.

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