Villagers join the clamour for reform

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THE VILLAGE of Ettringen, a community of 2,800 atop an extinct volcano in the Eifel, has seen a few changes over the years, but not enough. As the locals piled out of the school that served as the election centre for a day, the word "change" hung on every lip.

Even the head of the district Christian Democrat party thought it was a good thing. Gerd Heilmann tried to be enthusiastic about canvassing for another four years for Helmut Kohl. He thought the Chancellor had done a good job in the past 16 years. The important issues in these elections, he said, were law and order and tax reform. And unemployment, he added after some thought. "Change will come," he promised, "but it will come naturally."

Most villagers, it seemed, could not wait for nature to take its course. "Germany needs to become a modern country," said Christoph Hitzel, a scientist who commutes to Bonn, 40 minutes up the Autobahn.

Mr Hitzel, aged 35, rattles off a long list of problems that need to be urgently fixed, headed by high unemployment, extortionate taxes, and lack of funding for education. He felt the country had grown sclerotic in the past 16 years.

Mr Hitzel voted for Gerhard Schroder's party, expecting that the Social Democrats will be forced to form a "grand coalition" with the Christian Democrats. "To get all the reforms that have been piling up through the legislature, you need majorities in both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat [the upper chamber of parliament]. It seems only a grand coalition can secure that."

Many Social Democrat sympathisers disagree. "The grand coalition is the worst I can imagine," says Andrea Loch, a housewife. She and her husband voted for Mr Schroder's party, because "we need a government that does something for the workers, for the small people".

Udo Basch, a stone-worker, voted Social Democrat because he is disgusted by high unemployment, and felt the tax system was "unjust". About Mr Schroder, he has yet to be convinced. "I prefer Lafontaine," he says. Oskar Lafontaine is on the left wing of the party, more in tune, Mr Basch thinks, with the aspirations of working people. "But I accept that Schroder is worth an extra 4 or 5 per cent in votes."

Winfried Spitzley, an architect, voted for the Greens. "It is important to have a party in government that is concerned about the environment," he explains. He thought a Red-Green alliance would work splendidly. "Many people are afraid that the Greens would be bad for industry, but I don't believe that."

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