Infighting mars rally for Merkel's FDP partners before state vote

Sun Jan 6, 2013 1:15pm EST
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By Alexandra Hudson

STUTTGART (Reuters) - Germany's Free Democrats (FDP) struggled to show a united front on Sunday just two weeks before a crucial state election, which could see their leader booted out if they fail to win enough support to gain Lower Saxony assembly seats.

The junior partner in Merkel's center-right government is also in danger of missing the threshold for representation in the national parliament in September's federal election, which would leave the Chancellor having to form a coalition with either the opposition Social Democrats or the Greens.

A poll released by Emnid on Sunday put the FDP on 4 percent, short of the 5 percent it needs to prevent being thrown out of the Bundestag for the first time since its founding in 1948.

"It tears me apart inside when I see the state of my party. Things cannot continue as they are," senior FDP member and Germany's Development Minister Dirk Niebel told the party's annual "Three Kings" conference in Stuttgart.

"We aren't in the best shape we could be in as a team ... we are not in our best formation," he said, to applause. His party has spent more time in power in post-war Germany than any other.

His comments overshadowed the later keynote speech by party leader Philipp Roesler, who called for unity and insisted the FDP was vital to Germany's success.

Merkel's conservatives retained their comfortable lead at 40 percent in the Emnid poll while support for the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD) dropped by one point to 27 percent after another blunder by its candidate for chancellor, who came under fire for saying German leaders were underpaid.

"Germany needs a liberal force. We are essential for Germany to remain successful," Roesler told the party faithful.   Continued...

Leader of Germany's Free Democratic party (FDP) Philipp Roesler (C) adjusts his glasses as he stands between faction leader Rainer Bruederle (L) and Vice Chairman Birgit Homburger during the traditional FDP epiphany meeting in Stuttgart January 6, 2013. 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. Much of the FDP's internal strife centres on 39-year-old Vietnamese-born leader Philipp Roesler, whose attempt to inject new dynamism on taking over in May 2011 failed spectacularly. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski