Social Democrat politician Hannelore Kraft, 49, was appointed premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine Westphalia, on Wednesday in a fresh setback for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The heavily industrialized state, which is home to 22 per cent of all Germans, had been previously ruled by a premier from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

A hung state election in May left the CDU the biggest party, but too depleted to assemble an effective coalition.

Ms. Kraft, leader of the state Social Democrats (SPD), then offered to form a minority coalition with the Greens. The alliance has 90 seats in the state legislature, one short of an absolute majority.

Legislators appointed her premier on a 90—80 secret ballot at the second attempt on Wednesday and she was immediately sworn in.

The 11 abstainers will be crucial to her survival. The Left Party in the state, which has 11 seats, has said it will generally support her. Since the vote was secret, one cannot say with certainty that the Left abstained in the premiership election.

In a first speech as premier, Ms. Kraft appealed to legislators to suspend their party—political motivations and legislate for the good of the state. She said a minority government ensured she would “always look for good compromises” in her policies.

The Free Democrats (FDP), the other party in the state, are aligned with the CDU, as they are at federal level.

For Ms. Merkel, the end of the old CDU—FDP coalition in the state means greater difficulty passing federal legislation through the Bundesrat, the parliamentary chamber representing the states.

It also lessens her influence over the state.

Ms. Kraft is the first woman to a govern North Rhine Westphalia, but women premiers have run other German states.

Her election has increased hopes in the centre—left SPD that the party may be on its way to a comeback.

Her CDU predecessor, Juergen Ruettgers, says he is retiring from state politics.

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