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Kohl Wins 4th Term in Germany : Europe: Chancellor's conservative coalition claims only slim majority after losing 57 seats. Weakened position means the government may have to work more closely with the opposition.

October 17, 1994|MARJORIE MILLER and MARY WILLIAMS WALSH | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BONN — An upbeat Chancellor Helmut Kohl claimed victory for his conservative coalition government in Sunday's federal election, but results show that he will rule Europe's richest and most powerful nation with only the slimmest majority in Parliament.

German voters barely returned the 64-year-old Kohl to office for a fourth term, one that could make him Germany's longest-reigning leader since World War II.

"We have won the second all-German election," Kohl told supporters cheering his name at Christian Democratic Union party headquarters. The first election in the reunified Germany was in 1990.

Yet the chancellor's trademark optimism could not obscure the weakened state of his three-party coalition, which lost 57 seats in the 672-seat Parliament, giving it only a thin majority over the combined left-of-center opposition.

That opposition will include the Party of Democratic Socialism, made up of reformed Communists, which garnered a strong showing with 17% of the vote in the former East Germany despite Kohl's long and strident campaign against the "red-painted fascists."

While no major policy shifts are expected, the new parliamentary makeup will force the government to work more closely with its strongest opposition, the Social Democratic Party, and leaves Kohl open to pressure from critics and mavericks within his own coalition.

Social Democratic leader Rudolf Scharping conceded defeat to Kohl but promised the coalition government a tough fight over its conservative social and economic policies.

"The SPD emerges from this election strengthened," Scharping said, looking genuinely pleased. "It cannot be ruled out that the coalition will run into trouble during the (coming) legislative period."

He went on to say that the government "remains a coalition of losers" and that "if we don't take over now, we'll be in power by 1998, if not sooner."

Scharping, 46, was the fourth Social Democrat to lose to Kohl since the chancellor took office in 1982. He will be his party's floor leader in Parliament.

German voters have two ballots each to elect a Parliament--one direct vote for a member of Parliament and another for a political party. The chancellor then is picked by the majority party or the party that can control a majority of the seats in Parliament.

With 100% of the votes counted, Kohl's coalition received 48.4%, good for 341 seats in the 672-seat lower house of Parliament, or Bundestag.

Kohl's Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, won 294 seats in Parliament and will be able to count on their junior partner, the Free Democrats, for 47 seats.

The Social Democrats got 36.4% of the vote, or 252 seats. Their ally, the ecological Greens Party, fought its way back after losing out in 1990 and won 7.3%, enough to re-enter Parliament with 49 seats.

The Party of Democratic Socialism, the former Communists of East Germany, won 30 seats, although it polled only 4.4% of the vote. They previously had 17 seats.

The official results, announced early today, gave the parties more seats than had been projected late Sunday, and the Parliament was expanded from 656 seats to 672 because of the rule covering "overhang seats." This comes into effect when parties win more of the 328 single-seat constituencies than their proportion of the second vote Germans cast for party preference.

PDS leader Gregor Gysi called the vote "a real historical achievement. . . . The conservatives are weakened."

He told his supporters at party headquarters in Berlin: "Now we will have an east German and leftist opposition in the Bundestag, and that means we can put issues on the agenda that other parties will not."

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While the party is discredited in the west, PDS voters in eastern Germany said they believed that the former Communists represented them far better than the other parties dominated by westerners. The vote is a warning of eastern discontent; unemployment is almost twice as high in eastern Germany as in western Germany, and many residents of the former Communist country find life under capitalism in the unified Germany a difficult adjustment.

The ultra-rightist Republikaners and a handful of other tiny parties did not win enough votes to make it into the legislature. Their votes are discounted from the total.

Kohl, a survivor who seems to thrive on political adversity, appeared unfazed by his coalition's substantial loss of strength.

"This is certainly a viable majority, and we will continue the government coalition," he insisted. "It will be difficult, but that's the way life is. I am not a fair-weather chancellor."

Earlier this year, in the depths of winter and an economic recession, Kohl was so far behind Scharping that the press began writing of the "twilight" of the chancellor. At one point, his candidacy was threatened by rivals in his own party.

But Kohl rolled up his sleeves and fought back. He ran a tireless campaign and lucked into an earlier-than-expected economic upswing. He sold himself as the veteran statesman who reunified Germany and fought for European unity.

Scharping, meanwhile, ran a Clinton-style campaign for change, but with far less charisma.

Political commentators called him "as exciting as a sleeping pill" and noted that he seemed more relaxed after losing the election than at any time during the campaign.

German voters ultimately decided not to rock the boat.

"Voters chose security over risk," the conservative newspaper Die Welt said in today's edition.

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