THE Liberal Democrats were in turmoil last night as one of their senior AMs called on Assembly Leader Mike German to quit.
Following the election results which saw the party stall on six seats for the third successive election, Education Spokesman Peter Black said a "new face" was needed and Mr German should "gracefully step away".
The Lib Dems' performance in Thursday's poll was a disappointment for a party which had been confidently predicting picking up between one and five more seats but ended up still stuck in fourth place.
And Mr Black's comments are likely to spark a challenge to Mr German's leadership with the party's Enterprise Spokeswoman, Kirsty Williams, almost certain to put her name forward. It came at the end of a day when Mr German was given the go-ahead by his party to enter into coalition talks with Labour leader Rhodri Morgan.
Mr Black told Wales on Sunday: "My own view is that Mike has done a tremendous job for the party for at least eight years, probably more like nine, and the service he's done for the Liberal Democrats is outstanding, but maybe we'd be better served by somebody new.
"I think Mike has been outstanding, but every politician has a shelf life and Mike has taken us through three elections.
"He took us into government and achieved a hell of a lot.
"But now I think it's time for a new face at the helm. And for that reason, when the National Executive Committee meets to endorse the leader, I hope somebody else puts their name forward."
The party's constitution says there has to be a leadership election within 12 months of an Assembly Election.
Mr Black said he had no intention to stand but said Ms Williams, who has long coveted the top job, was "an outstanding potential candidate".
But he added: "There are other members of the group who would also be good.
"[Culture Spokeswoman] Jenny Randerson could be very good too. I just think now we need to have a change. I hope Mike will gracefully step away."
Both Mr German and Mr Black yesterday attended a meeting of senior party figures in Cardiff, which had been called to discuss a potential post-election coalition with Labour.
Last night, after being told Mr Black was making his call public, Mr German issued a statement saying: "Peter Black is entitled to his opinion and he has shared this view with me. However, it was not the mood of the wider group or of the party.
"I've been given authority to explore options with other parties for the good governance of Wales and that is what I intend to do."
Other Liberal Democrat AMs believed to be behind Mr Black's call include North Wales member Eleanor Burnham and Mick Bates, who represents Montgomeryshire. All are believed to favour Ms Williams.
The AM herself could not be reached for comment last night.
But Roger Williams, who represents her constituency in Parliament, rebuked Mr Black for speaking out publicly so soon after the poll.
He said: "I think it's inappropriate just after an election. We're considering the result of that election and the issue as to whether the party should take a role in opposition or a role in government and at that time I think it's inappropriate to start speaking about this.
"There is a certain disappointment in the result of the election but I think the immediate reaction is to analyse why we did things well and why we did things not quite so well."
The call to quit came at the end of a difficult day for the Lib Dem leadership as they discussed whether to enter into coalition negotiations with Labour.
Some Lib Dem party members have threatened to quit if there is a deal with Labour.
And all four Lib Dem council leaders in Wales have stacked themselves in opposition to a deal, fearing they will be tarnished with unpopular decisions when council elections are held next year.
Cheryl Green, the leader of Bridgend Council, said: "I don't believe that the last coalition with Labour in the Assembly did our party any good at all.
"Clearly I believe that the suggestion that we would prop up Labour could be one of the many reasons people did not vote for us this time."
Asked whether she supported Mr German, she said: "I'm not even going to comment on that."
Cardiff Council leader Rodney Berman, who similarly opposes a coalition with Labour, offered lukewarm support.
He said: "As far as I'm concerned if Mike wishes to carry on as leader I don't have a problem with that."