Kohl promises an election victory against the odds

THE GERMAN Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, yesterday insisted that he believes in victory for the Christian Democrats in elections in eight months' time, despite the party's poor performance in recent polls.

He told delegates to a Christian Democrat (CDU) party conference in Hamburg: 'We must fight, whether we have the wind behind us or - as at the moment - the wind against us.'

Delegates gave him a long, standing ovation after his 80-minute speech, in which he acknowledged that some people looked at him as if he were a 'strange bird' for talking about victory. But, he declared: 'We will win, if we do not go down on our knees before anybody.'

The party conference is intended to set the tone for a year in which there will be 19 elections, beginning with a regional election in three weeks' time and culminating with nationwide parliamentary elections in October.

Mr Kohl warned his internal party critics that they should voice their criticisms during the conference - 'And then that's it.' He argued: 'Anyone who seeks to raise his own profile at the expense of the whole, excludes himself from the community.' Mr Kohl, in power since 1982, has a formidable reputation for getting rid of those who seek to rebel against his authority.

Mr Kohl fiercely attacked the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), accusing them of lack of enthusiasm during German unity in 1990, and of 'betrayal' of Germany's future. He said that he was in favour of a 'fair campaign', but did not intend to 'turn the other cheek'. He claimed, too, that the SPD had wanted to 'kowtow' to the East German Communist Party leader, Erich Honecker. 'It is not a question of digging around in old files and certainly is not throwing mud, if I talk about what happened during those years,' he said.

In one respect at least, Mr Kohl appears to have gained the upper hand in the arguments within the party. After half-retreats in recent months, following attacks on closer European unity by the Bavarian Prime Minister, Edmund Stoiber, Mr Kohl fought successfully to keep the idea of the 'federal state' in the new party programme, which was approved by the party leadership at the weekend.

As regards the coming battle with the Social Democrats, Mr Kohl has every reason to be pessimistic. The latest polls confirm that Rudolf Scharping, the SPD leader, is much more popular: he has 35 per cent support, against 26 per cent for Mr Kohl. The outlook is also poor for the party battle. The SPD's support is 44 per cent, against 31 per cent for the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

But pollsters point out that Mr Kohl has, on previous occasions, gained victory from apparently unwinnable lows. The 'undecided' or 'non-voters' group continues to be larger than the declared support for either the Social Democrats or the Christian Democrats. In the words of Manfred Gullner, the director of the Forsa polling institute: 'The race is still open.'

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