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'Big man' Kohl edges ahead in image battle as election nears

CHANCELLOR Helmut Kohl yesterday launched the new election programme of the ruling Christian Democrats with the leaden declaration that 'securing the future is our number-one goal'.

With seven weeks to go before parliamentary elections the long drawn-out election campaign (which began, in effect, last autumn) now officially moves into what is known as the 'hot phase'.

Mr Kohl and the Christian Democrats rally the troops in the industrial town of Dortmund this weekend. Then, a week later, it is the Social Democrats' turn to organise a political celebration, also in Dortmund, which they are describing as 'the best party of the year'.

The main issue is the economy. The Social Democrats complain that the turnaround in the economy is too slow, and emphasise the high unemployment, and proposed social-security cuts.

The Christian Democrats boast that the economy is picking up and insist that there are many reasons for optimism. In the political arena they claim that the Social Democrats are fraternising with the former east German Communists, the PDS - the 'red socks', as the CDU likes to describe them.

But Mr Kohl and the CDU are themselves vulnerable on this point, since the CDU in the east is a successor party to the craven East German CDU, which helped maintain the Communist regime. An SPD poster has Mr Kohl wearing a red sock on his head, and asking: 'Was this really such a good idea?'

The CDU has also this week launched its new poster and television campaign. The electoral tactics of the CDU will continue to emphasise the feel-good factor. Thus, a poster launched just before the summer holidays showed a child jumping for a ball on a beach, with the slogan: 'UP into the summer, and SWING into the autumn.'

The early Social Democrat tactic was to contradict the CDU's optimism and emphasise reasons for gloom. Now there has been a change. In order that the SPD can also share in the feel-good factor the party's slogan shows equally harmonious images, with the line: 'Look forward to the change, Germany.'

Both sides try to sell their leader, but the CDU does so with more self-confidence than the Social Democrats, who were well ahead in the polls six months ago but are now badly behind. Some of the CDU posters will not even carry text but only a picture of 'the big man', Mr Kohl.

Rudolf Scharping, leader of the SPD, has also been transformed, as a kind of Neil Kinnock in reverse. His media adviser has tried to persuade him to drop double- breasted suits and opt for something more casual.