Sensing the government’s weakness after weeks of infighting, centre-left opposition leaders said Merkel’s bickering alliance of conservative Christian Democrats and pro-business Free Democrats had run its course after less than a year in power.
“The idea of new elections has crossed the minds of anyone thinking about political responsibility,” Renate Künast, the parliamentary leader of the Greens, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday.
Her counterpart from the Social Democrats, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, expressed similar sentiments to daily Bild.
“This government has failed, and when they realise that, the cleanest path would be an early Bundestag election,” Steinmeier said.
Buffeted by the eurozone economic crisis, defeat in a state election in North Rhine-Westphalia and incessant internal bickering, Merkel’s coalition has begun fraying around the edges in recent weeks.
Although Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian CSU allies were happy to ditch the Social Democrats last autumn for the Free Democrats (FDP), the centre-right government has since appeared to lurch from one crisis to the next and has seen its approval ratings plummet accordingly.
After openly fighting with the conservatives on several policy fronts, some members of the FDP have said they are reluctant to support the CDU’s candidate for Germany’s ceremonial presidency, Christian Wulff.
Künast said if the government was unable elect its own candidate at the end of the month its days were numbered.
But CDU general secretary Hermann Gröhe denied the centre-right alliance was on its last legs.
“We will stay the course and want to convince people through our actions,” he told public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday evening. However, he admitted there had been “horrible lapses in style” within the coalition lately.
He was referring to the FDP dubbing the CSU a “wild sow” running amok and the Bavarians labelling the Free Democrats a bunch of “rank amateurs” last week. And the CSU’s Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg reportedly was close to resigning as defence minister in recent days after a disagreement with Merkel’s Chancellery.
But the government’s problems have not been limited to the dismal atmosphere between the coalition partners. Guido Westerwelle, foreign minister and vice chancellor, is facing calls to give up leadership of the FDP following the party’s steep descent in opinion polls.
Westerwelle on Monday told Bild, however, that he needed to remain FDP chairman to defend the party’s interests within the coalition.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat anything, but we’re looking forward,” he said. “We stand before big challenges. This coalition has a clear majority and a clear mandate.”
But a poll released this weekend showed 53 percent of Germans did not believe Merkel’s coalition would last its entire term. Only 40 percent of those surveyed by public broadcaster ARD said the government would survive until the next scheduled election in 2013.