CDU names Herzog for president

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AFTER a disastrous false start, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), yesterday formally nominated Roman Herzog, Germany's leading judge, to be their candidate in presidential elections in May.

Meeting in Munich, leaders of the two governing parties quickly confirmed that Mr Herzog, the 59-year-old president of the country's constitutional court, was their choice in the race to succeed the retiring President Richard von Weizsacker. According to most observers, Mr Herzog is the frontrunner in the contest, although nationally he is less well-known - or liked - than his main rival, Johannes Rau of the Social Democrats (SPD).

Both the CDU and CSU fervently hope that this time they have got it right and that the selection of Mr Herzog will eradicate memories of the fiasco surrounding Steffen Heitmann, their ill-starred first choice as presidential candidate. Mr Heitmann, the Justice Minister of Saxony, was originally selected because Mr Kohl wanted an east German to fill the largely symbolic, but nevertheless influential post of president.

Mr Heitmann's controversial and extremely right-wing views on women, foreigners, Europe and the Holocaust, however, provoked outrage, not least from many members of the CDU itself.

Under attack from all sides, Mr Heitmann finally withdrew his candidacy in November, thereby paving the way for Mr Herzog, a man seen by many as the obvious consensus candidate. Although dubbed by some as a liberal - he has spoken out in favour of social welfare, environmental protection and even the introduction of some sort of speed limits on Germany's roads - even his many critics concede that he probably has the necessary experience, impartiality and stature for the job.

The CDU/CSU hope that victory for Mr Herzog, which depends on the support of the Free Democrats, the junior party in the governing alliance, will mark the beginning of a revival in their fortunes as Germany enters the marathon of local, regional, European and national elections later this year.

Yesterday's meeting in Munich was aimed at showing unity in the wake of the various challenges the government faces from right, left and centre and in framing a common strategy for fighting the elections ahead. With opinion polls showing the CDU/CSU badly trailing the opposition SPD and personal support for Chancellor Kohl consistently low, there is a general feeling that, after 12 years in power, the government may well be on the way out.

Such feelings were strengthened over the weekend when two new parties announced they would be contesting the elections. The first, the Statt (Instead) party, which is already part of the ruling coalition in Hamburg, hopes to capitalise on the widespread feelings of disillusionment with all the established parties. The second, the Free Citizens' Alliance, campaigning on an anti-Maastricht platform and against surrendering the German mark, hopes to pick up disgruntled votes on the right.

Mr Kohl himself, who has bounced back from many reversals, considers talk of his political demise to be somewhat premature. There is only one poll that really counts, he says: the one for the Bundestag (parliament), widely expected in October.

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