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Kohl Narrowly Retains Chancellor Post : Germany: Parliament vote shows weakness of his coalition. Governing plan criticized for lack of vision, specifics.


BERLIN — In a squeaker of a vote that further underscored the fragility of his governing coalition, 64-year-old Helmut Kohl was reelected in Parliament on Tuesday for a fifth term as Germany's chancellor.

Kohl, who has been chancellor for 12 years, received only one vote more than the minimum necessary to be reelected on the first ballot. A breakdown of the secret balloting indicated that at least three members of his coalition had voted against him, in a Parliament where his government's majority is so narrow that every vote is crucial.

"The vote is a symbol of Kohl's weakness, but not a reason for it," said Robert Leicht, chief editor of Die Zeit, a liberal weekly newspaper published in Hamburg. Leicht ticked off a variety of other factors working against the chancellor, and predicted that Kohl will govern for just two more years--until renegotiation of the Maastricht Treaty on European integration is completed in 1996--and then step down before the end of his four-year mandate.

"He has declared that this will be his last term, and it would not make sense to stay in office for four years and then send someone new into the next election," Leicht said.

Kohl, a tough and enduring politician who had been widely written off as unelectable just half a year ago, fidgeted Tuesday as the parliamentary votes were tallied but seemed to relax once it became clear that he wouldn't be the first German chancellor in modern times not to be elected on the first ballot.

Two previous chancellors, Helmut Schmidt in 1976 and Konrad Adenauer in 1949, also became heads of government on razor-thin parliamentary votes, and their slim margins of victory didn't impair their subsequent abilities to govern.

The voting came one day after Kohl's three-party coalition government unveiled its official working agenda for the next four years. The 50-page, nine-point governing program drew immediate, resounding criticism for its lack of specifics and for its failure to bring any sweeping new vision to Germany's structural economic weaknesses and social divisions.

The program came under particular fire for its halfhearted response to Germany's much-publicized immigration woes. Although many Germans--including Kohl's coalition partners, the Free Democrats--have been calling for a liberalization of this country's strict, blood-based citizenship laws, the only thing Kohl's new coalition could agree on was a pledge to create a new class of quasi-citizens, available only to a small group of people who are younger than 18 and born in Germany to parents who have lived in this country for at least 10 years.


"It's more than nothing, but less than anything," said Leicht of the immigration reform proposal. "It is disastrously little."

Since the Oct. 16 election, Germans have been remarking on the gravity of this country's problems, and the weakened position from which Kohl must address them.

Although the level of unemployment has fallen somewhat in recent months, and inflation is a tolerable 3%, many business leaders and economists say the German economy will never be as dynamic as it should--and that Germany will, in fact, eventually lose its prized international competitive standing--unless the government mounts a broad-based attack on regulation and taxes and reduces public spending.

At the same time, though, the government must come up with fiscally sound and socially acceptable ways to go on financing the immense cost of rebuilding eastern Germany. Even after the transfer of hundreds of billions of marks from Bonn, the former German Democratic Republic still looks scarred and shabby, and western Germans are increasingly frustrated about having to foot the bill for its modernization.

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