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Kohl has five weeks left to turn the tide Germany's `phoney election war' is over

THE PHONEY war is over. Germany's election campaign enters the "hot phase" today with a Woodstock-style happening organised by the Social Democrats in Bonn, followed by a Christian Democrat rally at a Dortmund arena tomorrow.

After that, leading politicians will be on the road until election day on 27 September.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl has five weeks to overturn the feeling that his 16-year reign has been long enough.

In the dog days of the summer months, the Christian Democrats have clawed their way back from an eight-point deficit, now lying no more than perhaps three points in the polls behind the Social Democrats. But in personal popularity ratings, Gerhard Schroder, the Social Democrat challenger, is up to 20 points ahead of the incumbent. His campaign prom-ises to be the glitziest in the Federal Republic's history, with strong emphasis on television and soundbites.

To remain Chancellor for a fifth term, Mr Kohl needs an "absolute majority" in the Bundestag: half the total number of MPs plus one. MPs, in turn, are elected by a mixture of first-past-the-post and a proportional system.

There are 328 constituencies in Germany. Each sends one MP to the Bundestag.

The other half of the Bundestag is filled from the parties' voting lists. Germany's 60.5 million electors must tick two ballot papers: one to choose their local MP and the other to support their favoured party.

A party must obtain 5 per cent of the national vote to qualify for its share. This is the route taken by the Greens and the Free Democrats, who are not strong enough to win a single constituency.

Alternatively, a party that wins three constituencies but falls below the 5 per cent threshold nationwide also gets its proportional share.