Germany's junior governing pro-market Free Democrats and their embattled chief Philipp Rösler swore off predictions of electoral demise at a make-or-break rally on Sunday, two weeks ahead of a key regional election.
Rösler, who is federal economy minister and Germany's vice chancellor alongside Angela Merkel and her governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) conservatives, urged 1,400 Free Democratic Party (FDP) delegates gathered in Stuttgart to close ranks, despite internal party criticism of his leadership.
Rösler said FDP members in his home state of Lower Saxony in northern Germany, which votes on January 20, were counting on party cohesiveness. Surveys show FDP ratings below 5 percent, the threshold needed to re-enter parliament in Hannover.
If the FDP remained in regional government alongside Merkel's CDU and its incumbent state premier Scottish German-born David McAllister, then this would bode well for Germany's federal election due late 2013, Rösler added.
FDP veteran and senior federal parliamentarian Rainer Brüderle (left in picture above) called on delegates in Stuttgart to display more self-confidence, saying the FDP had "improved" Merkel's coalition by lobbying successfully last year for the dropping of Germany's military conscription and data privacy protection.
Brüderle remained mute on calls within the FDP that he takeover the leadership by describing Vietnam-born Rösler in his economy portfolio as Germany's "growth minister" who would surprise doubters in his home region of Lower Saxony.
Outspoken former FDP General Secretary and now federal Development Aid Minister Dirk Niebel (right in picture above) said voter support was being eroded "every day" by inadequacies in the FDP leadership lineup.
"It tears me apart inwardly, when I see the state of my party," said Niebel, adding that he knew he ran the risk of being slammed for his frankness.
The FDP's current showing compares with almost 15 percent it won in Germany's last federal election in 2009 - a result that gave it five ministerial posts in Merkel's center-right coalition government.
While campaigning in the North Sea port city of Wilhelmshaven last Friday, Merkel insisted that her CDU would "manage" re-election in Lower Saxony, which has had the same CDU-FDP combination as her Berlin coalition.
Her CDU together with Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) allied conservatives are jointly riding a five-year nationwide high of 41 percent, according to an ARD public television survey published on Friday and conducted by the pollster Infratest.
The center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) - led by its chancellery candidate Peer Steinbrück - scored 29 percent. The SPD's prospective federal partner the Green party garnered 12 percent.
The survey showed the Left Party on six percent. Rösler's FDP and the relatively new Pirate party each trailed on 4 percent.
ipj/kms (dpa, dapd, Reuters, AP)