Defeat leaves Kohl's party in disarray

WANTED: AMBITIOUS politicians to fill vacancies at the top of what was until recently Germany's biggest party. Apply in writing to Christian Democrat (CDU) headquarters in Bonn.

Unfortunately, it is not clear who would open the envelopes, because most of the party's senior crew have resigned. Only one important seat remains filled: that of the caretaker chairman, Helmut Kohl, but he can't wait to be pensioned off.

As the defenestrations gathered pace yesterday, the party's general secretary, Peter Hintze, became its most prominent victim. On Tuesday, he had promised to serve out his term until the year 2000. Yesterday the former Lutheran pastor saw the light, and handed in the keys.

Mr Hintze had masterminded - if that is the right word - the election campaign of 1998, dreamt up snappy slogans, such as "Security Instead of Risk", and devised the red scare strategy, painting Gerhard "the Bosses' Comrade" Schroder as a crypto-Communist. And, after bagging the CDU's worst result since 1949, Mr Hintze still expected his services to be retained.

All over Germany, loyal friends of Mr Kohl had failed to comprehend the scale of their defeat. Their mentor had been party chairman for 25 years, holding together his amazing web of power with the aid of his little phone book. On Sunday night, the phones stopped ringing. By yesterday the regional party bosses of eight of Germany's 16 Lander (regions)had either "resigned" or were being asked not very politely by their deputies to go. The share of the Christian Democrat-Christian Social Union vote had fallen in every Land in these elections. In Bonn they are blaming Mr Kohl. In Lander where the crash was especially spectacular, it is held to be the regional grandees' fault.

Provincial party bosses are the CDU equivalent to the "men in grey suits", so what happens in the regional headquarters is of crucial importance to the future shape of the party. And what seems to be taking place out there, is that a new generation is marching to power, the so-called Junge Wilde - the "young wild ones".

The Junge Wilde want a party closer to business interests, that doesn't ignore the goal of social redistribution, while the left is calling for a courageous opening to the Greens.

The trouble is that the new Chancellor-elect, Mr Schroder, has already done both.

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