German Chancellor Angela Merkel's battle to forge a new coalition is set to enter a decisive phase this weekend with the clock ticking away on talks between her conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP).
Leaders of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) allies as well as the SPD have set this weekend as the deadline for concluding negotiations to form a new coalition.
However, party officials have already warned that the talks could drag on into early next week.
Europe's biggest economy has been without a government since September's inconclusive elections - the longest period since modern Germany was founded in 1949.
A series of opinion polls have underlined the sense of growing of frustration in the German electorate about the length of time it is taking the nation's leaders to break the political deadlock and agree to a new coalition government in Berlin.
Support for the SPD has sunk to between 18 and 19 per cent after the party slumped to an historic low of 20.5 per cent in the September election, according to voter surveys.
At the same time, backing for the CDU-CSU has also dropped.
The slide in support for the CDU-CSU adds to pressure on Merkel to reach an agreement with the SPD after her efforts to broker a coalition deal with the environmental Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats collapsed in November.
The SPD's roughly 450,000 rank-and-file members still have to vote on any coalition agreement reached by their party leaders amid signs of scepticism among the centre-left's supporters about teaming up with the chancellor in a new alliance.
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