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
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
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. …