German comment on Chancellor Gerhard Schroder following his recent defeats in the regional elections
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THE ELECTIONS are a warning signal for the Chancellor: as much as defeats in Saarland, Brandenburg and Thuringen may have hurt the SPD, the consequences are of limited relevance. On Sunday the SPD lost its absolute majority in North Rhine-Westphalia, from where a third of SPD members hail. The message of grassroots supporters on the Rhine and the Ruhr is clear: it is not the SPD which they do not trust, but the SPD Chairman, Gerhard Schroder. They are uncertain about the intentions of a Chancellor who portrays himself, in turn, as defender of social justice and radical reformer. He is right in sticking to his economy measures, but he has to explain what is social democratic about them.

SCHRoDER'S POLICY was concentrated on elegance and vanity, certainly not seriousness and social solidarity. But the Chancellor has nothing to fear within the government. There is no alternative to him, apart from good old Rudolf Scharping. It is Schroder's very good fortune that there is no competition.

IN THE upcoming elections in Saxony and Berlin we will probably see a repeat of the results of the last weeks. Schroder cannot change direction again. He knows no Parties any more, just economic necessities: "We must stick to the course" is his reiterated motto. Overall, the Christian Democrats are pleased that the Social Democrats are getting a bloody nose for promoting policies which the opposition also sees as necessary. Last year Schroder wanted a "grand coalition". Now he has got an informal one from the electorate.

THERE ARE many causes for the Social Democrats' chain of defeats, but only one main reason. It is not the case that people have recognised how good the Christian Democrats really are, because the CDU has not changed much. But many voters don't think much of the SPD in general and of Schroder's policy in particular. If the Chancellor and his party keep losing the trust of the electorate, the tactic of maintaining course until the next disastrous Landtag election could turn into a strategy of total defeat.

THE CHRISTIAN Democrats did not win these elections. Rather, the SPD lost them. The CDU hardly gained any new voters. Is Schroder at an end? The grassroots are very frustrated, and this could hinder campaigns, especially in North Rhine-Westphalia, where Landtag elections are due next May. Schroder has no alternative but to stick to his course, to present himself as an "iron Chancellor".

THE CHRISTIAN Democrats did not win these elections, it was Chancellor Schroder who lost them. In Thuringia, the CDU Prime Minister Bernhard Vogel achieved an increase of a mere 1,500 voters. The result of the first year of a Red-Green government is a historically low turnout. This raises the question: how representative is a democracy in which only half the voters bother to vote? The fact is that Mr Schroder splits society. He has practically nothing to offer to those people who would certainly never be tempted to call themselves the New Centre - not even the prospect of a better future.