Kohl hints at `grand coalition' after poll

ALMOST INSEPARABLE in the polls, the visible distinctions between Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his challenger faded further yesterday as Germans were confronted with the prospect of a "grand coalition" after this Sunday's vote.

In a televised interview last night, Mr Kohl conceded for the first time that the two biggest parties might be condemned to govern together. "I consider a grand coalition to be possible in principle, because democrats have to be able to form coalitions with each other," the Chancellor said.

In the glacial world of German politics, this admission of political reality was treated as a sensation. Christian Democrat spin doctors scrambled to issue "clarifications", urging editors to take a closer look at the rest of the interview, particularly the part where Mr Kohl declares: "I will not be the leader of a grand coalition."

Until now, the Chancellor's strategy consisted of presenting Sunday's elections as a choice between himself, or a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. Gerhard Schroder, the Social Democrat challenger, had always denied that. He had shown willingness to deal with anyone but the post- Communists of eastern Germany. In a television interview on Monday night, he even suggested he was prepared to play second fiddle in a government led by Christian Democrats.

With the polls consistently predicting an extremely close race, a marriage of convenience has always been regarded as one of the most possible outcomes of Sunday's vote. Never has an opposition party come to power in elections in post-war Germany. Willy Brandt became the first Social Democrat chancellor in 1969 after serving three years as junior partner to the Christian Democrats.

With such a precedent, Mr Kohl is understandably not keen to repeat the experience. After the last "grand coalition", the Christian Democrats were out of power for 13 years.

But this time the prospect of such a government is seen as the logical outcome of the blurring of the differences between the two great parties. After six months of campaigning, the voters can be excused for feeling a little confused.

With Chancellor Kohl, at least they know where they stand. After 16 years of "stability and peace", the incumbent is promising four more. At the hustings, Mr Kohl runs through his achievements, drops a few promises about trying to bring down unemployment and reform taxation and plays on his image as the trusted pilot in stormy seas.

The Social Democrats, on the other hand, speak with forked tongues. Leftists, such as the party chairman Oskar Lafontaine, hark back to the values of traditional socialism: safe jobs, safe pensions and lots of child benefits.

This is the mantra that Mr Schroder adopted for his rallies, whilst his real message, about the need for "structural reforms" in the welfare state and jobs market, is being delivered surreptitiously.

The differences between the Kohl product and the Schroder vision boil down to style. Mr Schroder, 54, plays pop and jazz at his rallies, while Mr Kohl's crowds are warmed up by oompah bands.

The real choice is between change, offered by Mr Schroder with a nudge and a wink, and permanence, which the Chancellor has written all over him. That much Germans understand, but how those contradictions could be resolved in a joint government, nobody can fathom.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings