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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
FDP's Westerwelle comes down to earth
Guido Westerwelle on election night
Westerwelle: He wanted 18%, he got 7.4%
"We all sense that this is a disappointing election night for us." These words - spoken on Sunday by a sombre, pale-faced Guido Westerwelle - are surely one of the understatements of the German campaign.


We not only expected more, we fell below our potential. There's no point in beating about the bush

Guido Westerwelle
Mr Westerwelle had said again and again before the vote that his FDP party was aiming for 18%. The final result of 7.4% was bitter.

"We not only expected more, we fell below our potential. There's no point in beating about the bush."

It was a great personal blow to Mr Westerwelle. He had been expected to join with Edmund Stoiber's conservative alliance in a government coalition and become Vice-Chancellor. But 7.4% was just not enough to make that happen.

A life in the FDP

Guido Westerwelle joined the FDP as a teenager in 1980, rising swiftly through the ranks to become chairman last year.

Aged just 40, he was the youngest leader amongst the big five parties in Germany.

He deliberately set out to woo younger voters and tried to cast off the prevailing stuffy image of the FDP

He cultivated a correspondingly youthful image, appearing on the German equivalent of the TV reality show "Big Brother".

He deliberately set out to woo younger voters and tried to cast off the prevailing stuffy image of the FDP.

This had been forged during the 16-year governing coalition of the FDP and Helmut Kohl's CDU. When that was voted out in 1998, Mr Westerwelle was at the forefront of moves to change the party.

Juergen Moellemann

But the past was not so easy to put aside. One of the personalities of the previous era, deputy leader Juergen Moellemann, came back to haunt him during the campaign.

Guido Westerwelle with Juergen Moellemann
Moellemann (right): a thorn in Westerwelle's side
A few days before polling, Mr Moellemann resurrected a months-old personal row with the leader of Germany's Jewish community and laid himself - and the party - open to charges of anti-semitism.

On Sunday Mr Westerwelle was clear that this incident had damaged the FDP's chances. "Members of a leadership have to work in an atmosphere of trust, without one person doing his own thing", he said. Mr Moellemann has since resigned from his post.

Criticism for Westerwelle

The affair has claimed another high-profile casualty. The "grande dame" of German liberalism, 81-year old Hildegard Hamm-Bruecher, who has been a party member since 1948, has also resigned.

In a letter she criticized Mr Westerwelle for holding his tongue and not arguing against Mr Moellemann.

German media reports also suggest other top FDP officials may be beginning to question Mr Westerwelle's leadership.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

Gerhard Schroeder

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11 Sep 02 | Media reports
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