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Sees Need for Young People, Women : Kohl Chides His Party for Growing Old and Tired

June 16, 1988|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

BONN — West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl sought Wednesday to place the blame for the recent poor showing of his Christian Democratic Union on party leaders who failed to enlist young people and women.

Kohl, speaking at the closing session of the annual party conference in Wiesbaden, appeared to be trying to absolve himself from what many in the party have described as his fumbling and directionless leadership.

The chancellor, who has been party chairman since 1973, told the conference delegates that they must show "more of a common touch" as well as "more drive and elan."

"In one state," he said, "the 200 local party organizations do not have one female figure. That is virtually unbelievable. There are entire local party organizations in which members under 25 years of age cannot be found. Only 7% of our members are under 30."

Allowed Party Squabbling

Since the Christian Democratic victory in the last national election, in January, 1987, the party has fared badly at the polls, losing control in several states.

In many instances, political commentators say, Kohl has allowed squabbling within the party to become public and has stepped in only at the last minute to restore order.

"Kohl tends to put off decisions until events make them for him," one political analyst said. "It is a strange way of running a three-party coalition government."

In domestic matters, Kohl often seems overshadowed by Franz Josef Strauss, leader of the Christian Democrats' sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union. Strauss is not above criticizing the chancellor, publicly and frequently.

Genscher Gets Glory

In foreign affairs, Kohl, a staunch supporter of the Western alliance, has given a free hand to Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the leader of the junior partner in the ruling coalition, the Free Democrats. As a result, Genscher generally gets the credit for foreign policy successes.

Now, as Kohl pointed out Wednesday, the party is growing old and tired. Although he criticized others for not bringing more women and young people into the party, he has appointed women to only two of the 17 ministries in his Cabinet, and he has not brought many young people into his government.

Supporters defend Kohl by saying that no one could rule a three-party coalition with an iron hand and that his style is actually more effective than a firmer approach would be.

Tax Plan Bogged Down

Kohl has come under fire recently for the way he has let the government's tax reform proposals get bogged down in crippling and confusing amendments. Ulf Fink, chairman of the party's social affairs committee, told the conference that party members found it difficult to support the reforms, particularly after recent government decisions to raise indirect taxes.

At the beginning of the four-day party conference, an anonymous memo was circulated, purportedly by younger party officials, arguing that the Christian Democrats could not afford to face the next national elections with Kohl at the helm.

Kohl disagreed, although he admitted that "we all know that we are currently going through a bad period." He blamed the problem in part on the "personal vanities" of some of the leading figures in the coalition.

Despite the rising criticism of Kohl's leadership, no one sees a serious challenger so far. And because there are no significant state elections coming up to test the political waters before the next national election, in 1990, Kohl apparently is secure for now.

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