RARE IS the election in which both major parties take comfort in the results, but that is the case in Germany after the Hamburg state elections last month.
Party leaders see the portents of victory in next year's national elections: the conservative Christian Democrats gained ground; their main opposition, the leftist Social Democrats, made their worst post-war showing.
But to control Germany's parliament, both parties will likely need a majority coalition with a small party, just as the ruling Christian Democrats now have with the Free Democrats.
The environmentalist Greens party held its own in Hamburg, raising the prospect of a national Social Democrat-Green coalition victory in 1998; polls show strong support for that union. The Free Democrats failed to win the 5 percent of votes needed for representation in the Hamburg assembly; opinion polls suggest the same prospect nationwide next year.
Social Democrats view the voter backlash against them in Hamburg as reflective of national discontent with the status quo, and thus with the nation-ruling Christian Democrats. Christian Democrats see Social Democrat losses in their stronghold as a ** sign of broader national rejection of that party.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl pins his hopes for an unprecedented fifth term, heading a center-right coalition, on abandoning the German mark in favor of a single European currency, the euro. His European statesmanship and stature are counted on by Christian Democrats for continuing their 16-year rule.
Social Democrats expect that demands for fresh approaches will be key in ousting Mr. Kohl next October. As in Hamburg, basic worries about jobs, law and order, social services and pensions remain uppermost in voters' minds. Still, two-thirds of voters oppose surrendering their cherished mark for the euro.
With neither major party offering clear leadership on solutions to the country's collective angst, there are calls for a "grand coalition" of the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats in Bonn. But the durable Mr. Kohl, longest serving chancellor in postwar Germany, declares he would resign rather than embrace the Social Democrats as partners.
Pub Date: 10/02/97