Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, found herself standing next to children with blacked-up faces during a carol service.
11:00PM GMT 04 Jan 2013
The German leader joined a group of a carolers for Three Kings’ Day on the steps of the chancellery but raised eyebrows when several of the children appeared in blackface.
Traditionally, one of the kings appears with a darkened face as the groups go door-to-door singing carols.
Mrs Merkel’s difficulties were added to by news that her coalition partners, the Free Democrat Party (FDP), were sinking in the polls and may not gather enough votes to remain in Parliament.
If the FDP collapses, Mrs Merkel may be forced to join with one of the Left-wing parties to piece together a governing coalition.
If the party, as polls currently indicate, falls short of the 5 percent threshold in the federal vote, it will be ejected from parliament for the first time since its founding in 1948.
Mrs Merkel, whose Christian Democrats (CDU) are riding high in national polls at about 40 percent, would then be forced to seek a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) or Greens in order to secure a third term.
Much of the FDP’s internal strife centres on 39-year-old Vietnamese-born leader Philipp Roesler, whose attempt to inject new dynamism on taking over in May 2011 failed spectacularly.
Within a year, support for the FDP fell to 4 percent from a record 14.6 percent at the 2009 election.
Germans jokingly brand the FDP a party of the affluent, of dentists and tax advisers. But it is the party’s inability to appeal to the centre, its failure to push through campaign pledges on tax breaks, that have cost it support.
Mr Roesler’s predecessor, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, also proved deeply unpopular, not least for his decision to break with traditional allies in refusing to back a UN resolution authorising military action in Libya.
A recent survey by pollster Forsa showed 76 percent of FDP voters would rather see Rainer Bruederle, a 67-year-old FDP veteran and former minister, in charge of the party.