West Germany's election, which gave conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl a decisive victory, leaves the country with a difficult choice: destructive polarization or creative integration of its political factions.
To the previous mix of two major parties and one minor party in the Bundestag has been added the Greens, who are making their debut in parliamentary politics.
Some 48.8 percent of the voters cast their ballots for Mr. Kohl's Christian Democrats and his middle-of-the-road policy of normality, stability, and comforting optimism. But at the same time, a vigorous 5.6 percent minority of primarily young citizens - fed up with their elders' normality - voted for the protest Green party.
This is the first time since the founding of West Germany in 1949 that a party other than the traditional conservatives, Social Democrats, and Liberals has crossed the 5 percent hurdle to get into the Bundestag. The stable pattern over the past three decades was a 21/2 party system. Voters chose between the two major parties of right and left but also kept voting in the small Liberal (Free Democratic) party as a ''brake'' to keep the conservatives from going too far to the right in a right-center coalition, and the Social Democrats from going too far to the left in a left-center coalition.
That pattern was repeated in the 1983 election, when the Liberals pulled 6.9 percent of the votes; but it has now been increased by another half party, the colorful, unorthodox Greens.
The Greens, a hodgepodge of protesters, support house squatters and oppose pollution, nuclear power, quantitative economic growth, the planned deployment of new NATO missiles, and even West German membership in NATO. They see themselves as the spearhead of these protests in the legislature, but many of them view the more important part of their activity as joining in on-the-spot demonstrations against missile or nuclear power sites.
They are radical democrats: Every party position on every issue is to be decided by grass-roots discussions. And under the rotation principle, each of the 27 new Green MPs is expected to resign his or her seat in two years to make way for other Greens.
The Greens are anathema to Chancellor Kohl, who in his campaign speeches kept contrasting the decent, normal, optimistic citizens at his rallies with the raucous, pessimistic ''brawlers'' in ''gym shoes'' who follow ''the law of the jungle,'' embrace the ''nihilism of our time,'' and demonstrate for peace in the world even though ''ever since'' they began demonstrating ''it's gotten less and less peaceful on our streets.''
The Greens view the conservatives with equal hostility.
Between Kohl's 278 majority and two dozen Greens sit 193 unhappy Social Democrats. Their leftward (but not too leftward) shift to appeal to the Green constituency failed miserably. It did capture a few votes on the left, but it scared almost 2 million regular Social Democratic voters into bolting for the conservatives.
The result was the best conservative showing since the 1950s, with 48.8 percent for Kohl's Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister, the Christian Social Union. Conversely, the result was the worst showing for the Social Democrats - 38.2 percent - since they moved from a working-class party to become a broader middle-class party two decades ago.
One prominent Social Democrat, North Rhine-Westphalia Premier Johannes Rau, who won 48.4 percent for an absolute legislative majority in the Ruhr Social Democratic heartland three years ago, saw his party's vote drop 5.6 percent in the March 6th vote.
He has already called for a party swing back from the left toward the center. If it does not, he suggested, the Social Democrats risk becoming a minority party of more ideological government employees.
Privately, some Social Democrats are specifically warning their party not to go the route of the radicalized, isolated British Labour Party. This counsel is rejected, however, by the party's combative left wing.
Confrontation thus looms, both within the Social Democratic party and within West German society.
Today conservative Chancellor Kohl couldn't care less, of course, if the Social Democrats paralyze themselves with infighting. He does want to restore order in West German society as a whole, however.
His inclination may be to seek such order by shutting out the protesters. But in his first public encounter with a Green MP-elect in a television discussion March 6, he kept his cool and noted the Greens' right to represent those who voted for them. Already a few commentators are suggesting that the desired social order can never be achieved by simply overriding this energetic, articulate minority - but must be won by somehow compromising with and integrating them.