Merkel allies beg CDU voters for support

FDP facing election disaster on Sunday after exiting Bavarian parliament

German chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) have warned supporters against switching allegiance to their ailing junior coalition partner in next Sunday's federal election.

A day after crashing out of the Bavarian state parliament, the Free Democrats (FDP) begged CDU voters for their support yesterday to preserve Berlin's outgoing coalition and prevent a "left-wing cartel" ruling Germany. "Whoever wants Merkel votes FDP," said Rainer Brüderle, the party's campaign leader.

But his plea was slapped down by the CDU yesterday when Volker Kauder, CDU floor leader in the Bundestag, said the "FDP can take care of its own voters".

'No votes to spare'
Merkel warned her party had "no votes to spare", indicating just how tight Sunday's election is likely to be. According to polls, neither Merkel's coalition nor the opposition alternative of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens have a clear majority in the next Bundestag. In that case a CDU-SPD grand coalition, similar to Merkel's first administration, would be a likely option.


After the FDP debacle in Bavaria, opinion is divided in Berlin over whether voters will support or abandon the party in Sunday’s federal poll.

With the party hovering in federal polls around the 5 per cent cut-off , a last-minute sympathy vote would come at the expense of the CDU. That is what happened in January when a strategic voting pact between the two parties boosted the FDP but cost Merkel’s party power in the state of Lower Saxony – a disaster the CDU is anxious not to repeat.

Difficult four years
The FDP's fight for survival follows a difficult four years in office for a party that was once the kingmaker of German coalitions. The political home of entrepreneurs, doctors and intellectuals scored a record 14.6 per cent in 2009 from voters determined to oust the CDU-SPD grand coalition.

Since taking office, however, it has plunged in opinion polls after failing to deliver on tax cuts and a slimmer state.

Instead, the party found itself backing public support for euro crisis countries and failing banks. "The FDP started with grand promises and is now at a very low level because it hasn't done what it promised," said Prof Nils Diederich of Berlin's Free University.

Given its record in office, the FDP’s two-pillar campaign – tax cuts and no new debt – has left it open to ridicule. The lowest point came when Brüderle appeared on a television game show recently. The audience had to guess the political term he was describing: “election promise”.

“When you say a lot, have great expectations and nothing comes out the other end,” he riffed. Instead of the right answer, the laughing audience cheered “FDP”.

The ailing party has made several attempts at a fresh start, but ousting long-time leader Guido Westerwelle made little difference. His successor, Philipp Rösler (40), presided over a series of state election disasters and Brüderle seized control of the federal election campaign. However, a journalist from Stern magazine then accused him of sexism, claiming he once eyed her cleavage and said she would "fill out a dirndl nicely".

The popularity plunge has continued apace and Brüderle and his party have cast aside the script to head off their final fall into political oblivion.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin