Bonn Coalition Faces Critical Challenge in State Election Sunday

Times Staff Writer

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s coalition parties face a critical challenge Sunday in state elections in Lower Saxony.

Voters in the north German state will elect a new government to serve for the next four years, but the election is also being seen as a test of strength for the policies of Kohl’s Christian Democrats, their Bavarian partner, the Christian Socialists, and their junior partner in the governing coalition, the Free Democrats, in the last regional election before the federal elections Jan. 25, 1987.

The Christian Democrats now hold an absolute majority in the state legislature. But opinion polls, particularly since the April 26 nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union, have shown a sharp upsurge in support for the opposition Social Democrats and the radical environmentalists known as the Greens.

In the most favorable sampling for the incumbent government, an Emnid Institute poll this week showed the Christian Democrats with 47%, the Social Democrats with 38%, the Greens with 8% and the Free Democrats with 6%. Based on these percentages, the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats could form a coalition government, as they have done on the national level.


But a poll by the national magazine Stern gives the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats 44% each, the Greens 7% and the Free Democrats 4.5%. This would freeze out the Free Democrats--under the law, a party must have 5% of the vote to be represented in the state or federal legislature--and leave the Christian Democrats without a majority. In this case, the Social Democrats could form a coalition government with the Greens.

Effect on Parliament

At the federal level, the defeat of the Christian Democrats would deprive the party of its control of the upper house of Parliament, the Bundesrat, because it is made up of representatives from the state governments.

However, Gerhard Schroeder, the Social Democratic leader, has said he will not form a “red-green” coalition with the environmentalists because of their radical views. They advocate, for instance, West German withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.


Thus, if the Christian Democrats outdistance the Social Democrats, and the Free Democrats fall short of the 5% level, the Christian Democrats might be forced to attempt to go it alone as a minority state government. But this would subject them to losing a vote of confidence whenever the Social Democrats and Greens decide to align themselves against them.

There have been no issues of overriding importance in Lower Saxony, which extends from the North Sea and Holland on the west to the Elbe River and the East German frontier on the east. The farmers, who ordinarily vote with the Christian Democrats, are unhappy about low prices, but the Social Democrats have not proposed any new policies.

The spread of radiation after the accident at Chernobyl in April redounded against the Christian Democrats because Chancellor Kohl’s government at first seemed disorganized in dealing with the incident.

Some commentators have suggested that Kohl’s own future might be in jeopardy in Lower Saxony, because the state reflects the national mood and a Christian Democratic loss there might foreshadow a national defeat in January.