Bavarian win gives new hope to Kohl

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The Independent Online
CHANCELLOR Helmut Kohl's embattled government gleaned encouragement in Bavaria yesterday where their conservative allies preserved their majority in elections to the regional assembly.

Shaking off the national swing toward the Social Democrats, Bavaria's Christian Social Union won 52 per cent of the vote, about the same as four years ago. "This is a great result for us," declared Edwin Huber, finance minister in the CSU government. "We never thought we would do so well."

The Social Democrats, who also repeated their score of four years ago of about 30 per cent, hope their candidate for chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, will attract more Bavarian voters during the federal elections in two weeks.

At one point in the campaign, the CSU appeared to be in danger of losing its absolute majority in the regional assembly for the first time since 1962. Its weak showing in the polls was attributed not to Bavarian politics, but to the poor image of the party's Christian Democrat allies in Bonn, and especially Mr Kohl.

Edmund Stoiber, the ascetic Prime Minister of Bavaria, is generally recognised as the party's greatest asset, while his ally Mr Kohl is its greatest hindrance. For this reason, Mr Stoiber fought hard to keep the Chancellor as far away from Bavaria as possible.

In the end, Mr Kohl was allowed less than 10 appearances, under strict instructions that he stay out of Bavarian politics and confine his addresses to the subject of the federal elections. In his own speeches, Mr Stoiber did not mention the Chancellor's name once.

Mr Stoiber and Mr Kohl are, in fact, poles apart on fundamental issues. While the Chancellor has endeavoured to create the European single currency, Mr Stoiber campaigned for the postponement of the project as recently as a few months ago.

The Bavarians have openly addressed doubts about Mr Kohl's ability to lead the conservative coalition to victory in two weeks. They also disagree with him over his choice of successor, Wolfgang Schauble.

As Mr Kohl keeps being reminded, the Bavarians have an opinion on everything. It is Mr Stoiber's Euro-scepticism that lies at the heart of the conflict. "No state in Europe has as much influence in the fight against European Union centralism as Bavaria," he claimed on the campaign trail.

"We don't want the Brussels bureaucrats to regulate how we take care of the cows in Bavaria."

The CSU, which has governed Bavaria since the Second World War, claims credit for transforming Bavaria from an impoverished pastoral backwater into a European centre for high-tech, which attracts almost 80 per cent of direct foreign investment coming into Germany.

Bavaria, as Mr Stoiber never ceases to point out, has the lowest unemployment rate - around 7 per cent - the lowest level of debt and the lowest crime rate in Germany. It also lays claim to the country's best education system, with a crucifix for every classroom.

Lately, in a blatantly xenophobic campaign, the CSU blamed foreigners for the rising crime rate and promised to deport such offenders, together with their families.