Kinkel throws down gauntlet

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The Independent Online
Klaus Kinkel, leader of Germany's embattled Free Democrats, yesterday dared his party to get rid of him. In an unprecedented move, he called for a vote of confidence in his leadership, after delegates to a party conference had booed him, refusing to applaud.

Mr Kinkel survived the vote, with 390 votes in his favour - but with a substantial 185 votes against. Morale in the Free Democrats (FDP) remains at an all-time low.

"Kinkel and the panic orchestra," ran one headline yesterday, with reference to the hostility against Mr Kinkel in his own ranks. In the words of the newspaper Bild, "Everybody is playing his own tune: shrill notes from left and right."

Certainly, the FDP has every reason to be worried. It has repeatedly failed to gain seats in recent regional elections, so that the party, still represented in Bonn, has come to seem a head without a body. Mr Kinkel acknowledged that the defeats had "devoured" the party.

None the less, Mr Kinkel has sometimes seemed reluctant to face the scale of the disaster. In an interview this month, he suggested that things were not so bad, because the FDP was still represented in "nine, or maybe 10" of the regional parliaments. Hi

s interviewer pointed out that, on the contrary, the party is now represented in only seven of Germany's 16 regional parliaments. Mr Kinkel insisted the interviewer was wrong.

The party leader seemed unaware of the single most important statistic affecting the FDP in recent months. The party has fallen at the 5-per-cent hurdle - and has thus failed to gain seats in parliament - at every one of nine regional state elections since Mr Kinkel became leader in 1992.

With only seven more Land elections to go, the FDP is in danger of becoming a non-party, before the next elections, due in 1998.

Mr Kinkel insisted that the party will recover. He told delegates: "We must and we will succeed in laying a foundation for a new beginning." But many of his members have lost faith.

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