THE Liberal Democrats will keep all the coalition options open if they hold the balance of power after next year's Assembly elections, the party's leader in Cardiff Bay Mike German said last night.
Two weeks ago the Western Mail revealed an outline deal had already been reached to revive the 2000-03 Lib-Lab coalition if, as expected, Labour fails to gain an overall majority of seats.
But Mr German insisted he would listen to what any potential partners had to say, with the only criteria being how much of the Lib-Dem manifesto could be implemented.
A desire to see proportional representation [PR] introduced for council elections is likely to be the party's minimum demand.
Although a Lib-Lab coalition is seen as the probable outcome - an idea cemented by the two sides' co-operation in Westminster this summer over the Government of Wales Bill - some in the party believe there is a strategic advantage in keeping the idea of a Lib-Dem/Tory/Plaid deal alive.
Mr German will today meet Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen for talks at the party's Brighton conference.
Coalition politics are expected to feature on the agenda, with Mr Stephen's Scottish Lib-Dems having been in government since 1999. Asked about a fresh coalition in Cardiff Bay, Mr German said, "Everybody else finds this very difficult, but we made a decision prior to 1999, which is still very simple - if the people decide that none of the parties should have an overall majority, we will consider a coalition based on a programme for government.
"We're seeking to get as much of our manifesto into government as we can, that's the only issue. That's the promise we will make to the people of Wales.
"Yes we will go into coalition if the programme is right. But the people of Wales have to have their determination; we'll say if you vote for us, you get more of the things that are in our manifesto.
"The party's position is that we would work with other parties, and it would depend on the results of the election, and that's up to the people of Wales. We will listen to what the people have to say and what the parties have to say."
Mr German, who married his partner Veronica Watkins last month, said he had no plans to stand down as group leader in the Assembly.
The South East Wales AM, 61, is the only one of the four party leaders elected in 1999 to remain in post. "There are no plans for any changes," he said.
Under the deal revealed in the Western Mail, Mr German would resume his position as Deputy First Minister, a post he held in the 2000-03 coalition, and add the finance portfolio.
The Lib-Dems would gain another cabinet seat, Kirsty Williams at culture, while Jenny Randerson would become Presiding Officer. Both sides have played down the existence of a deal.
Mr German said the Lib-Dems had recovered from their winter of discontent which saw Charles Kennedy ejected as leader after admitting a battle with alcoholism.
"We've picked up, we had a drop in the polls but now we're back where we were prior to the last General Election," he said. "Clearly in Wales we expect to gain seats and we're well ahead of our 2003 position.
"We're at the top end of a bracket of votes, and we only have to jump that bracket and we will gain substantially. People will go into the election feeling much more confident than they did six months ago."
He added, "We want to do what the Conservatives did in 2003, which will put us in the next bracket, somewhere between eight to 12 seats, that's the range the Conservatives are in now. Labour will lose seats; I think people are tired of Labour and see them as being tied to the administration in London."
Leader Sir Menzies Campbell was performing well and showing "gravitas and strong political conviction", he said. "You shouldn't compare leaders, you should never do that," he said.
"Ming is not a Charles [Kennedy], who in turn was nothing like Paddy [Ashdown].