Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Germany's Opposition Savors Kohl's Narrow Election Victory

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Germany's Opposition Savors Kohl's Narrow Election Victory

Article excerpt

HELMUT KOHL won reelection as Germany's chancellor, but the ultimate victory may go to his opponents.

The narrow margin by which Mr. Kohl kept his job in Sunday's election shows that his power base, built over 12 years in office, has severely eroded, reflecting voter worries over the economy.

Kohl indicates he will try to continue his current policies, including cutting back Germany's extensive social-welfare network and pushing for gradual economic deregulation. Germany's current pro-European Union stance, as well as close relations with the United States, should remain unchanged.

But unless Kohl makes concessions on social policies, especially taxation and environmental protection, the leftist opposition may gain enough strength to topple his government before the next scheduled elections in 1998.

"The losers are the political winners," stated the General-Anzeiger daily. "The results are not enough for political change, even though the signs of the time have changed."

Kohl's center-right coalition emerged with up to a 10-seat majority, winning 341 of the 672 seats in the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, according to official results. Overall, the coalition's percentage of the vote was 48.4 percent, down from 54.8 percent in 1990.

In 1990, Kohl rode the wave of euphoria surrounding unification to a resounding election win. The chancellor, more than any other German politician, was unswerving in the push for fast unification and was rewarded for it.

But mistakes brought on by the dash toward unification caught up with Kohl this year. The process saddled the country with a swollen deficit, prompting higher taxes. The strain has been compounded by high unemployment. Disenchantment has been especially high in eastern Germany, where the unemployment rate remains in the double digits.

Crucial to Kohl's win was the success of his junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, which cleared the 5 percent vote barrier needed to gain entry into the Bundestag. Setbacks in state elections this year had threatened the Free Democrats with political extinction.

Germany faces broad challenges in the coming years. The government must smooth over the bumps in the unification process, while maintaining economic competitiveness. In international affairs, Bonn wants to strengthen and expand the EU to include the formerly Communist states of Central Europe. Meanwhile, Germany will come under pressure from its allies to play a greater role in worldwide peacekeeping efforts.

Kohl insists he has a "workable majority" to achieve his agenda. …

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