Merkel's allies in vote countdown bid to retain power

17th September 2013, Comments 0 comments

Five days from elections, Angela Merkel's allies were fighting for political survival Tuesday to save their coalition and prevent the German chancellor having to team up with her rivals.

Hobbled by a disastrous regional ballot a week before the national vote, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) has begun pulling out the stops to claw votes from Merkel's conservatives to stay in power.

Merkel swiftly nixed the tactical voting manoeuvre despite wanting her four-year tie-up with the FDP to triumph on election night Sunday. She argues her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has no votes to spare.

"Everyone's fighting for themselves alone. The FDP has no illusions. It'll be tight," the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said.

"FDP struggles for survival," was the headline in its Munich-based, centre-left broadsheet competitor, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, while the Berliner Zeitung said: "FDP begs for CDU votes."

While the FDP scraped past the five-percent hurdle needed for seats in parliament in an opinion poll Tuesday, its joint score with Merkel's conservatives only produced a dead heat with all the opposition parties taken together.

In Germany's stability-striving system of coalition-building, the survey points to a nail-biting race in the final straight between Merkel maintaining her centre-right coalition or having to form a "grand coalition" with the opposition Social Democrats.

-- 'We have no votes to give away' --

Germany's 62-million-strong electorate has two votes -- the first for a candidate and the second for a political party, making a split affiliation possible.

"Anyone who wants to have Merkel (for chancellor) should vote FDP," Rainer Bruederle, the Free Democrats' lead candidate said Monday, the day after it crashed out of southern Bavaria's state parliament.

"We have no votes to give away," Merkel retorted, vowing: "We will fight for every vote."

The FDP's strategy is not without risk, both for Merkel, who wants another four years at the helm of Europe's top economy, and for the party itself, which boasts about its unrivalled length of time spent in post-war governments.

"Such a pity bonus would be a danger for Angela Merkel's CDU and could drastically push the result for the CDU and CSU (Merkel's Bavarian sister party) down," news weekly Spiegel Online said.

Richard Hilmer, head of Infratest dimap pollsters, said that if the current centre-right alliance fails, Merkel's conservatives will need all their votes to go "into the (coalition) negotiations as strong as possible".

Political scientist Nils Diederich at Berlin's Free University said he believed the FDP had a chance of getting back into the national parliament because even if traditional voters felt let-down, they would decide at the last moment not to abandon the party.

But he said its tactical voting drive was "extremely dangerous" as the FDP, in pleading for a helping hand from the CDU, was defining itself as a "satellite" party.

"The Liberals (FDP) are making themselves totally dependent on the CDU... the question is how such a party is still able to implement its own objectives credibly in a government," he told AFP.

After its record 14.6 percent of the vote in the 2009 election, the FDP has plummeted to around the five-percent threshold in polls and has been unceremoniously kicked out of six regional parliaments in quick succession.

Its electoral pledge to cut taxes four years ago came to nothing amid Merkel's priority to quickly balance public finances, while government steps to lower VAT for hoteliers driven by the FDP was badly handled.

The FDP's leadership has been bumpy in recent years since Guido Westerwelle, currently Merkel's foreign minister, resigned under pressure and its current head Economy Minister Philipp Roesler faced down a power struggle.

Additionally, the Free Democrats have turned away from their traditional socially and culturally liberal ideals to focus solely on economic liberalism, which "basically is just clientele politics for interest groups", Diederich said.

"That doesn't attract many voters."

© 2013 AFP

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