Free Democrats Gain as Missile Flap Hurts Kohl

From Reuters

West German voters gave a boost to the pro-detente Free Democrats in two state elections Sunday, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl said the dispute in his center-right coalition over Soviet arms offers has harmed his Christian Democratic Union.

Provisional official results showed that Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s Free Democratic Party (FDP) made strong gains in the city-state of Hamburg and in Rhineland-Palatinate, Kohl’s home state.

The FDP advanced largely at the expense of the Christian Democrats, and Kohl said his party has lost ground because of open disagreement in the government over a Soviet offer to ban medium- and shorter-range missiles in Europe.

“It is certain that the missile discussion in the past two or three weeks has harmed us,” Kohl said in a television debate.


In a last-minute attempt to contain the damage over the missiles dispute, Kohl issued a statement on Friday that only added to the confusion, however.

Kohl elaborated on his party’s skepticism over possible agreement on the Soviet proposal, saying it would expose West Germany to the Warsaw Pact’s nuclear battlefield weapons and superior East Bloc conventional forces.

Adding ‘German Aspect’

But his words were widely seen as a rejection of the accord being negotiated by the superpowers in Geneva and an attempt to add a “German aspect” to any East-West agreement.


Genscher has fought for government acceptance--in line with the majority in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--of the Soviet offer.

The Free Democrats’ victories continued a trend seen in national elections in January, when the party added nearly a third to its vote amid Christian Democratic losses. Sunday’s gains extended the FDP’s role in holding the balance of power to five states, against three previously.

The Free Democrats got more than the 5% they needed to enter the two legislatures. The Free Democrats forced the Christian Democrats to seek a coalition with them in Rhineland-Palatinate by robbing Kohl’s party of its outright majority for the first time since 1971.

In Hamburg, the Free Democrats said they would consider an alliance with the Social Democratic Party, which reversed a national downward spiral Sunday and maintained its 30-year-old position as the city-state’s strongest party.


Unusual Alliance

A Social Democratic-FDP pact in Hamburg would be the first such alliance since 1982, when the Free Democrats abandoned their national coalition with the Social Democrats and gave Kohl a governing majority.

The ecologist Greens lost more than a third of their vote to the Social Democrats in Hamburg.

On Sunday, the Social Democrats won 45% of the votes in Hamburg, more than three points better than in last November’s voting, which produced a hung legislature and made Sunday’s early election necessary.