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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kohl Coalition Will Need Every Vote

LIMBURG, Germany -- First, his wide forehead appears through the crowd; then his familiar jowls; suddenly, a smiling Chancellor Helmut Kohl bursts 6-foot-4 into the October night, extending a beefy hand to well-wishers.

On friendly turf in this town of conservative entrepreneurs, the chancellor crisscrosses the plaza before storming up to the podium on one of his final campaign swings before the Oct. 16 federal election.

"Secure into the Future," says an election poster behind him. Other posters bear no words at all, satisfied just to picture the beaming chancellor amid a throng of supporters: Kohl himself is the picture of security.

Or is he? The chancellor has sought to present himself as the leader who helped reunify Germany and build the European Union. He says he is the one who has steered Germany through its worst recession since World War II, the leader of a country at peace with its neighbors, the candidate of stability.

But his most urgent message in recent campaign meetings has been a nitty-gritty appeal for votes: His ruling coalition might not have enough. "We have no vote to give away. We need every vote to continue the politics of good sense, the politics of a coalition," he said.

In fact, Kohl, 64, has risen dramatically in popularity since the beginning of the year, when polls and pundits were forecasting his political finish over an ailing economy. Back then, they said the country was hungry for a change.

But the economy has turned around in the last six months and today there is no doubt that his Christian Democratic Party will again garner the most votes among a handful of parties, thanks largely to Kohl.

However, the Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, seem not to have enough votes to govern alone, and their junior coalition partner, the liberal Free Democratic Party which has failed to win legislative seats in the last six state elections, could lose out altogether.

This opens up a worrying prospect for Kohl: the possibility of a coalition government of Rudolf Schapring's Social Democrats with the Green Party that would achieve a majority through the support of the reformed Communists of the former East Germany, the Party of Democratic Socialism.

The unexpected vision of Communists acting as kingmakers has scared Kohl into a time warp of Cold War bombast. "The experiences of the fall of the Weimar Republic have taught us the lesson that there shall never be common ground with Nazis, neo-Nazis, Fascists and Communists of any kind," Kohl told his crowd in Limburg.

"We have paid dearly in Germany, first with the brown dictatorship and then after the division, with the red dictatorship," he said. "We have had enough of Communists in Germany."

Social Democratic leader Scharping has denied that he plans to form a government with the former Communists, although Gergor Gysi, the Party of Democratic Socialism leader, expressed his willingness Tuesday to support a Social Democrat-Green coalition.

Meanwhile, Sharping himself has succeeded in stopping his own free-fall in the polls recently with a late but impressive show of unity with more charismatic rivals in his own party.

Dubbed the "troika" by the European press, Scharping and his colleagues Oskar Lafontaine, the premier of Saarland state, and Gerhard Schr?der, premier of Lower Saxony, finally stopped bickering and began appearing together at campaign rallies to take on Kohl.

But Scharping has an image problem among voters. In an election of personalities, he is seen as stiff compared to the down-home Kohl. Some Germans feel the bright career politician and premier of Rhineland-Palatinate talks down to them.

"His face is too perfect," said Torsten R?der, 18, a student and undecided voter at the Kohl rally. Kohl, he said, seems to be "a capable man."

But Kohl is not taking any chances. He goes after the uncommitted with a litany of his good deeds and prods his own supporters to the polls.

"Don't let anybody tell you that this election has already been decided," he said. "Nothing has been decided yet."