No Mandate for Helmut Kohl

Article excerpt

It was a shotgun marriage neither party wanted but both got by virtue of the razor-thin margin handed Helmut Kohl's coalition government in Germany. There was no kiss at the altar. A honeymoon is out of the question. So might be civility. In fact, the grounds for divorce are being staked out even before the chancellor is sworn in for a fourth term: irreconcilable differences.

The circumstances are these: The governing, conservative coalition of Kohl's Christian Democrat alliance and the Free Democratic Party collected 48.4 percent of the vote for a 10-seat edge in the assembly or Bundestag. That compares with their current 134-seat margin.

The opposition - the Social Democrats (who also extended their control of parliament's upper house), the Alliance 90/Greens and the party of the ex-communists - received 48.1 percent of the vote. Alone, the Social Democrats won 36.4 percent, and the Alliance 90/Greens got 7.3 percent.

This means that, to win any controversial legislative initiative, Kohl must hold his party's votes together, keep the liberals from bolting the coalition and lure away some from the opposition.

An early test of the chancellor's persuasive skills could occur with the debate over Germany's participation in NATO out-of-area exercises. Germany's Constitutional Court has declared participation by German troops in out-of-area missions to be legal, but the judges also required parliamentary approval of any mission.

The Christian Democrats have advocated Germany assuming greater responsibility in security matters, a position the Clinton administration applauds and encourages. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, remain skeptical about the role German troops can perform abroad and have rejected German military participation in U.N. missions like the Persian Gulf War and Somalia.

Within hours of the announcement of the election results, Kohl confidently declared that a "majority is a majority" while Rudolph Scharping, the Social Democrat's candidate for chancellor, told reporters he is betting on this government lasting two years, not four. "Nothing can be done over the next four years without the Social Democratic Party," Scharping said.

Obviously, it is too early to declare the rise or fall of Germany's ubiquitous chancellor during what he has said will be his final term. Kohl has been cast as the loser any number of times over his political career, only to craftily prove yet again that he can resurrect his ambitions.

His longevity - which is about to rival the 14 years his mentor, Konrad Adenauer, served in the chancellery - has positioned Kohl astride Germany and even Europe, as symbol of the economic prowess of a country that still must struggle with World War II's awful legacy. …