Merkel's FDP partners scramble to avoid electoral oblivion

Fri Jan 4, 2013 8:26am EST
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By Alexandra Hudson

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's Free Democrats have spent more time in government than any other party since World War Two. Now, Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partners are struggling to avoid dropping out of parliament altogether.

With its novice leader under fire, the liberal, pro-business party meets in Stuttgart this weekend to try to stop the rot before a general election that could wipe it out.

If the party, as polls currently indicate, falls short of the 5 percent threshold in the federal vote, it will be ejected from parliament for the first time since its founding in 1948.

Merkel, whose Christian Democrats (CDU) are riding high in national polls at about 40 percent, would then be forced to seek a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) or Greens in order to secure a third term.

Much of the FDP's internal strife centers on 39-year-old Vietnamese-born leader Philipp Roesler, whose attempt to inject new dynamism on taking over in May 2011 failed spectacularly.

Within a year, support for the FDP fell to 4 percent from a record 14.6 percent at the 2009 election.

Germans jokingly brand the FDP a party of the affluent, of dentists and tax advisers. But it is the party's inability to appeal to the center, its failure to push through campaign pledges on tax breaks, that have cost it support.

Roesler's predecessor, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, also proved deeply unpopular, not least for his decision to break with traditional allies in refusing to back a U.N. resolution authorizing military action in Libya.   Continued...

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Leader of Germany's liberal Free Democrats FDP and Economy Minister Philipp Roesler attend a session of the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin November 9, 2012. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz