BERLIN (REUTERS) - The leader of Germany's Social Democrats on Friday (Jan 19) urged members of his centre-left party to endorse coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives or risk facing new elections that could further damage the party.
The SPD is scrambling to rally support among rank-and-file party members for formal negotiations with the conservatives about another "grand coalition" - a move opposed by outspoken members of the party's youth and left wings.
Nearly four months after a national election, Dr Merkel has still not managed to form a government. Refusal by SPD delegates to hold further talks could lead to new elections or a minority government for the first time in Germany's post-war era.
Many experts fear that new elections could further strengthen the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered parliament for the first time in September.
The process would also further exacerbate uncertainty that has raised questions about the future of Europe's largest economy and Dr Merkel's quest for a fourth term in office.
Rejection of the talks "would lead to new elections, and in pretty short order", SPD leader Martin Schulz told weekly news magazine Der Spiegel. He said the SPD - which posted its worst result since 1933 in September's election - was likely to see further losses in any new poll.
"If the parties do not succeed in forming a government with the majorities in the Bundestag, then voters will punish them,"he told the magazine.
Mr Schulz also expressed impatience with those who argue that the SPD must reinvent itself in opposition, arguing that it had the power now to improve the lives of everyday Germans.
"I don't want the geriatric nurse to have to wait four years for better working conditions just so the SPD feels better," he said.
The leader of the SPD's youth wing, Kevin Kuehnert, and other opponents of another coalition government, say the blueprint hammered out with conservatives falls too far short of SPD goals.
Mr Schulz and his backers insist the blueprint will benefit German citizens, and dampened hopes that formal coalition talks would result in significantly different results.
"The exploratory talks created a framework for what is possible and what isn't," he said. "After all, we don't want the other side to question things that we fought for and won."
A new poll by broadcaster ZDF showed that 64 per cent of Germans - and 75 per cent of SPD members - expect SPD delegates to approve further talks with Dr Merkel's conservatives.
The SPD has vowed to leave the final decision on whether to enter government to members in a vote by mail.
The poll showed that only 45 per cent of Germans were in favour of another grand coalition, although 68 per cent of conservatives were in favour, and 57 per cent of SPD members.
Conservatives would win 33 per cent if the next election were held on Sunday, the poll showed, up one percentage point from a poll last week. The SPD would win just 20 per cent of the vote, down three points from last week.