Bavarian poll dents Schroder's hopes of success

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The Independent Online
THERE WAS a new spring in Helmut Kohl's step and an air of despondency over his opponents yesterday as politicians in Bonn digested the implications of Sunday night's conservative triumph in Bavaria.

Final results yesterday showed that, rather than gaining up to 4 percentage points, as predicted, the Social Democrats had lost votes to the Christian Social Union in the elections to the Bavarian assembly. With the help of Gerhard Schroder's misguided campaigning, their result was 1 per cent lower than four years ago, when the national party was in a shambles. Mr Schroder, who was looking forward to moving into the chancellery in two weeks, could not conceal his disappointment. "I don't need to underline that the Bavarian elections did not fulfil our hopes," he said.

Chancellor Kohl was visibly relieved. "We are full of fighting spirit and willing to fight for every vote," he said. "The general election has not been decided, whatever the polls say."

The polls are saying that the Social Democrats have a three- point advantage. But it has become a noticeable trend that in all but one regional election - in Mr Schroder's Lower Saxony earlier this year - the pollsters over- estimated the SPD's final score by 4 or 5 per cent. In the meantime, the Social Democrats are consoling themselves with selective readings of southern tea-leaves. Bavarians are peculiar, they point out, and Edmund Stoiber, their Prime Minister, is extremely popular. The contest was essentially local. The left can take comfort from the confirmation of the Greens as the third-biggest party in the country, replacing Mr Kohl's allies, the Free Democrats, who vanished without trace in the Bavarian poll. If the Free Democrats fail to clear the 5-per-cent hurdle to the Bundestag on 27 September, Mr Kohl's days as Chancellor are over, no matter how well his own party does.

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