REFILE-Germany's Merkel fights allies for centre-right votes
* Close result means CDU in no mood to share votes with FDP
* Tone turns ugly with FDP grasping for Merkel's supporters
* Polls show dead heat going into Sunday's German election
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN, Sept 17 (Reuters) - The gloves came off between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and her Free Democratic (FDP) allies as Germany's nervous ruling coalition partners fight for the same centre-right voters ahead of Sunday's general election.
Merkel appealed to supporters to cast both their votes - one for a constituency member of parliament, one for a party list - for her Christian Democrats (CDU) rather than splitting their ticket to help the FDP in an increasingly close race.
"The CDU can't afford to give away any votes," Merkel said at a rally in Potsdam on Monday evening. "Everyone is fighting for themselves. We are two separate parties."
Economically free-marketeering and socially libertarian, the FDP has served in most German governments since 1949, with such influence that it has been dubbed the tail that wags the dog.
But the small liberal party's survival in the national parliament is in doubt after it crashed out of the Bavarian state assembly in an election last Sunday, falling well short of the 5 percent required to win seats.
Yet far from offering their allies a helping hand, the conservatives have stepped up their campaign for both votes, haunted by a shock defeat in a Lower Saxony state election in January, when the FDP successfully siphoned off CDU support.
Under Germany's complex proportional voting system, first votes select candidates for the Bundestag lower house and second votes determine how the seats are distributed there.
In past elections, a tactical second vote for the FDP has helped it clear the 5 percent hurdle and preserve a centre-right coalition.
Now the CDU is trying to stamp out the practice, not least because it faces another challenge from an anti-euro party, the Alliance for Germany, which could also grab conservative votes.
If the centre-right option fails, the CDU will need as many votes as possible to enter 'grand coalition' talks with the Social Democrats (SPD) from a strong negotiating position.
"The second vote is the truly important one and anyone who wants the CDU shouldn't give that vote to another party," said Armin Laschet, head of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia. "The FDP shouldn't rely on help from CDU voters."
The FDP, which is hovering around 5 percent in national polls, made a new pitch for second votes this week by saying a vote for the FDP was a vote to keep Merkel.
"You get a dual effect by giving the FDP your second ballot," said top FDP candidate Rainer Bruederle. "The first vote is for Mrs Merkel and the second for a centre-right government."
FDP leaders are also trying to cut local deals with CDU candidates in some constituencies where FDP supporters would give their first vote to the CDU in exchange for endorsement for the FDP in their second ballot.
"I've never seen coalition partners fight each other for the same voters like this," said Hans Vorlaender, a political scientist at Dresden University. "It's an act of desperation for the FDP to beg so openly for CDU votes. The CDU got burned before about vote splitting and has learned their lessons."
Merkel's tacit support for the FDP in 2009 helped the party to a record 14.9 percent, but this time she has declined to make any joint campaign appearances with FDP leaders.
Opinion polls point to a 44-44 percent draw between the centre-right and centre-left. Merkel's conservatives are polling around 39 percent with the FDP on 5. The SPD and their Greens allies are on 34 percent and the hardline Left party, regarded as too radical to join a coalition, is on 10.
"The CDU doesn't want to get blindsided again on Sunday so they are in no mood to help the FDP this time," said Carsten Koschmieder, political scientist at Berlin's Free University.
"It's one indication of how nervous the CDU is. It also reflects how poorly the two parties got on the last four years. There was a lot of bad blood and mutual bad-mouthing."
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