Germany's Free Democrats (FDP) have named Rainer Brüderle as the party's lead candidate for the September 22 national elections. The move comes at a critical time for the party, as it battles with declining support.
Brüderle (pictured above left) secured the nomination as expected on Sunday, receiving a five-minute standing ovation from the more than 600 delegates at the pro-market FDP's convention in Berlin.
"People want a strong voice for freedom. The chance is there for us. We should use it and we want to use it," said Brüderle in a speech just before he was nominated.
"I know you will all fight with me," he told the delegates. "Let's go into battle."
"We will fight together in a team," said Rösler.
Rösler wins second term
On Saturday, the FDP voted to keep Rösler, 40, as party chief. The economics minister ran unopposed and won a second two-year term with 85.7 percent support, despite coming under fire for his party's waning popularity.
The FDP's support ratings have dipped below the five percent cutoff mark to reach Germany's national parliament, the Bundestag - a steep decline for a party that enjoyed 15 percent nationwide support in 2009.
Rösler was given a boost, however, by his party's surprise finish in Lower Saxony's state elections in January, which were seen as a bellwether indicator ahead of September's federal vote. The FDP finished with 10 percent support in Lower Saxony, although the latest poll released this week by the public broadcaster ZDF showed support for the party natinally at only four percent.
The FDP's dip in popularity nationally, which was spurred by a failure to pass promised tax cuts and a brief flirtation with a more eurosceptic stance, is worrisome for their parliamentary coalition partners, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
Merkel has said the CDU wants to maintain its conservative-liberal alliance as she seeks a third term in September. But a failure on the part of the FDP to reach the Bundestag's support threshold would deal a blow to her bid for the chancellorship.
"We have made the [CDU] better in a lot of ways," said Brüderle on Sunday. "Without the FDP of today we would have a debt union in Europe and not a fiscal pact."
Brüderle also criticized his political opponents in his speech. He said the center-left Social Democrat's top election candidate Peer Steinbrück was a "search engine" for gaffes, a reference to the former economics minister's latest faux pas of calling two candidates in Italy's recent national election "clowns."
dr/ipj (Reuters, AFP, dpa)