Kohl allies face oblivion after election debacle

KLAUS KINKEL, the leader of the junior coalition party in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government, yesterday acknowledged the 'bitter defeats' that his party had suffered in two regional east German elections on Sunday night, defeats that some in his party believe could be fatal.

Mr Kinkel, the Foreign Minister and leader of the Free Democrats (FDP), insisted that the party's severe losses, it failed to gain any seats in the parliaments of Saxony and Brandenburg, had no national implications.

But Hildegard Hamm-Brucher, who earlier this year was the Free Democrat candidate to be German president, said the result was a possible death sentence. The FDP has repeatedly failed to gain seats in regional elections in recent months. If it fails to break through the 5 per cent barrier in elections next month, it will, in effect, be impossible for Mr Kohl to form a government without the Social Democrats (SDP).

Mr Kohl had plenty to boast about, as did his challenger, Rudolf Scharping, the SDP leader. In Saxony, the Christian Democrat (CDU) prime minister, Kurt Biedenkopf, gained a remarkable 58 per cent of the vote. Mr Kohl yesterday described this as a magnificent result. The Social Democrat (SPD) share of the vote was smaller than in 1990, down 3 per cent to 16 per cent.

But in Brandenburg there was better news for the SPD. Support for the SPD prime minister, Manfred Stolpe, jumped from 36 per cent to 54 per cent, while the CDU crumbled from 29 to 19 per cent. The jump in the support for Mr Stolpe, a former clergyman, was notable. He was accused of collaboration with the East German secret police, the Stasi. Sunday's result suggested that few Brandenburgers were impressed by the campaign.

There was only one party which could congratulate itself wholeheartedly. In both Saxony and Brandenburg, the PDS, successors to the East German Communists, came within a few points of achieving second place. Support for the PDS jumped sharply, bringing it level with the SPD and the CDU. The PDS is confident that its strong performance in the east means at least three of its candidates will win direct seats, allowing to gain seats in the Bonn parliament, even if it does not break through the 5 per cent barrier, under the proportional representation system, nationally.

If the pattern is repeated in the federal elections, the collapse of the FDP vote, combined with the strength of the PDS, could have great significance on 16 October. Mr Scharping has insisted he will not do a deal with the PDS. But the influential Der Spiegel magazine this week claims that Gerhard Schroder, one of the most powerful figures in the SPD, is ready to do deals with Gregor Gysi, the best-known figure in the PDS, who allegedly might be offered a ministerial post.

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