Merkel’s struggling partner tries to rally voters

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partners sought Monday to rally their voters after suffering a serious state vote defeat over the weekend with national elections now only days away.

The pro-market Free Democrats, or FDP, lost their seats in the state legislature in Bavaria on Sunday, falling below the 5 percent mark needed to enter state parliament.

They had been in Bavarian government with the Merkel-allied Christian Social Union, and the outcome highlighted uncertainty over Merkel’s chances of continuing with her current center-right coalition government.

The latest national polls show the FDP at 5 or 6 percent and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union at 40 or 41 percent heading in to the Sept. 22 election — enough to form a government together again to govern for four more years.

But if the Free Democrats fall below the 5 percent hurdle to get into federal Parliament, it could either force Merkel to choose another coalition partner or give other parties the opportunity to combine forces to form a government themselves.

“This is a wakeup call for all (party supporters) in Germany,” said party general secretary Patrick Doering.

Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler, the Free Democrats’ leader, warned voters on n-tv television Monday that if the party doesn’t make it into the federal Parliament, Germany’s center-left could team up with a hard-left rival to take power.

“Nobody wants that,” he said.

He sought to downplay the weekend defeat, however, saying “the situation nationally is totally different from Bavaria.”

But Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the Social Democrats, said the Bavarian result bodes well for his party’s hope of having its candidate, Peer Steinbrueck, become chancellor in a coalition with the Greens. The Social Democrats were at 26 percent in the latest polls.

“If the FDP were not to make it into Parliament, the chances would increase dramatically for Peer Steinbrueck to become chancellor,” he said.

The Christian Social Union, traditionally the dominant force in Bavaria, won 47.7 percent of the vote — regaining the majority it lost in 2008.

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