German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Free Democratic coalition partners are begging her party for help to ensure their survival in this weekend’s national ballot.
FDP leader Philipp Roesler called on backers of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union to split their ballot and give the second vote to his party on Sept. 22. Germans cast two votes: the first for a candidate in their constituency, and the second to determine the share of seats each party gets in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.
“Roesler’s move is a ridiculous sign of weakness,” Friedrich Thelen, founder of Thelen-Consult, a Berlin-based business advisory group, said in a telephone interview. “The FDP can’t go around begging for gift votes from another party.”
The gambit underscores the Free Democrats’ struggle for their very existence in Sunday’s election, a fight that risks undermining Merkel’s bid to repeat her current coalition and forcing her into an alliance with the main opposition Social Democrats.
While Merkel’s bloc leads the SPD by between 11 and 15 points, she needs a coalition partner to govern, and the FDP is polling right at the 5 percent hurdle needed to win any seats.
She snubbed Roesler’s plea during a campaign rally yesterday in Lower Saxony. Her party lost the state to the SPD and Greens in January after Christian Democratic voters gave their second ballot to the FDP in a failed bid to keep the coalition led by CDU Prime Minister David McAllister.
“We have no votes to give away,” Merkel told the rally in the town of Duderstadt. “We’ll fight for every vote in Lower Saxony and in Germany,” she said. “Both votes for the CDU, that’s our slogan.”
Roesler, who is also federal economy minister and vice chancellor, made his appeal on N24 television yesterday, the day after his party failed to re-enter Bavaria’s regional assembly in a state election. While Merkel’s sister party, the Christian Social Union, got an absolute majority with 47.7 percent, the FDP fell to 3.3 percent after taking 8 percent in the last election in 2008.
“I’m telling people to split their vote between the CDU and the FDP to keep Merkel in power with the FDP,” Clemens von Saldern, 50, a Free Democratic voter who is managing director of Saldern GmbH, a Potsdam, Germany-based health products company, said in a telephone interview. “This is loaning a vote but the purpose is to help Merkel.”
Under Germany’s proportional representation system, a party that wins at least 5 percent of the vote gets seats in the Bundestag even if it fails to win any directly contested districts. This aspect of the German political system is meant to give representation to smaller parties and has been crucial for the FDP, the Greens and the anti-capitalist Left Party.
The FDP, which traditionally served as a “kingmaker” in post-World War II German governments, entered Merkel’s second-term coalition after taking almost 15 percent at the 2009 election, its best-ever tally.
Support for the party that numbers among its ranks former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the co-architect of German reunification with CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl, has since collapsed amid infighting, a failure to deliver on its tax-cutting promises and an internal rebellion over euro-area bailouts during the debt crisis.
Now, “it’s clear the FDP really does need conservative voters to give the party their second vote to lift it into parliament,” Carsten Brzeski, senior economist at ING Group NV in Brussels, said by phone. “The big question is whether Merkel’s supporters are prepared to do that: She goes to every rally in Germany telling voters not to give their second vote to any party but to her party.”
Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc dropped by a percentage point in Emnid and INSA national polls published Sept. 15 to 39 percent and 38 percent respectively. The FDP were unchanged in both polls with Emnid giving them 5 percent and INSA 4 percent.
The Social Democrats led by Peer Steinbrueck, which are campaigning on a platform of tax increases, “taming finance capitalism” with more regulation and reducing the retirement age to 63 from 67, gained a point to 26 percent in the Emnid poll and dropped a point to 27 percent in the INSA poll. The SPD’s Green party allies lost a point, falling to 10 percent in the Emnid poll and were unchanged at 11 percent in INSA’s poll.
“There’s nothing wrong with a campaign for second votes,” Wolfgang Kubicki, a member of the FDP’s national executive committee, was cited as saying in an interview in yesterday’s Die Welt newspaper. Yet “tactical games aren’t sufficient,” he said. “Policy positions must be clear, including those that set us apart” from Merkel’s bloc.
Merkel’s insistence on getting both ballots puts her party on a collision course with its FDP partners, who are now “desperate” as they face a possible meltdown, said Joerg Forbrig, an analyst at the Berlin bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
“Even if the FDP manages to get into parliament, it may well fail to win enough to give Merkel a majority,” Forbrig said in a phone interview. “Things are heading to a repeat of the grand coalition with the SPD” of Merkel’s first term.
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