BERLIN (AP) — Members of the smallest party in German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s unpopular coalition have voted in a low-profile ballot to stay in the troubled government, but the result underlines the three-party alliance’s difficulties.

The pro-business Free Democrats, who in recent decades have leaned to the right, joined a coalition with Scholz’s Social Democrats and the environmentalist Greens, both left-leaning parties, in late 2021. The government has become notorious for infighting, and the poll ratings of the Free Democrats, led by Finance Minister Christian Lindner, have declined sharply.

The party’s rules stipulate that a ballot must be held if at least 500 members demand one, and 598 members forced a vote on whether to stay in the coalition. On Monday, party headquarters announced that those who voted opted to stay in by a narrow margin of 52.2% to 47.8%, with just under 40% of members taking part.

The ballot was nonbinding and party leaders gave it little public attention, but there was still relief at the outcome.

“The fact that only just under one-fifth of our members voted to leave (the government) is what I am experiencing too,” Wolfgang Kubicki, a deputy party leader, told Deutschlandfunk radio on Tuesday.

“It’s not that we are all satisfied with what’s going in Berlin … but that doesn’t mean we should stop governing; it just means that we as the (Free Democrats) must get better and more assertive in the coalition, and we’re working on that now,” he said.

That points to more possible difficulties in the government in a year when European Parliament elections and three state elections are scheduled.

Policy differences between the Free Democrats and Greens in particular have been a constant source of tension. A ruling by Germany’s highest court that forced a hasty and still-unfinished rework of plans for the 2024 budget, complete with higher levies and spending cuts, has added to the problems.

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