The death on Monday of Franz Josef Strauss deprives West Germany of a forceful and magnetic right-wing leader who greatly influenced Chancellor Helmut Kohl's center-right coalition. His posts as prime minister of Bavaria and chairman of the right-wing Christian Social Union (CSU) will probably be taken over by two different people. But even though his successors are expected to continue on the same policies, his disappearance could lead to long-term shifts on the political landscape.
As chairman of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to West German Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democrats, Mr. Strauss helped formulate government policy and placed four ministers in the Cabinet. No other West German State has its own political party, nor exercises so much influence on federal affairs.
He was CSU chairman for the past 27 years. He used influence, among other things, to increase the obstacles for women seeking legal abortions, to fight for support for South Africa, and to obtain tighter law-and-order legislation. Now the arch-conservative influence of the CSU is likely to be muted, at least for the time being.
As prime minister of Bavaria, he ruled one of the bigger, better-run, and more successful states. He commanded votes in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament in Bonn, where recently he held the balance of power.
Now there is no central figure on the far right of the political spectrum. He was a rallying point for right-wingers who might otherwise have been tempted to join neo-Nazi and other reactionary groups. Now these might grow, or produce a less democratic-minded figure as leader.
Paradoxically, his disappearance is a blow to the small, liberal Free Democrat Party of whom Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the foreign minister, is the best-known member. In center-right coalitions the FDP had always gained support from voters so the party could act as a political balance on the left to Strauss on the right. Unless someone else reproduces Strauss's bogyman effect, the FDP may lose one of its main raisons d'^etre.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kohl will have a quieter life without the constant skirmishing between his two smaller coalition partners.
Strauss had no obvious successor and it is far from certain who will step into his outsize political shoes.
One main candidate for the party leadership would be Gerold Tandler, who has twice been CSU secretary-general and is currently the Bavarian economics minister. Another is Theo Waigel, the CSU's parliamentary leader in the West Germany's federal assembly, the Bundestag, in Bonn and one of the most popular CSU leaders within the party.
Whoever is chosen can be expected to keep the party on its present right-wing course. Any merger with the CDU or attempt by the two parties to compete on each other's territory seems unlikely at present. The choice of a successor as prime minister has to be made by the Bavarian parliament within a month. At present, the deputy prime minister, Max Streibl, who is also finance minister, is possibly best placed to take over at least until the next Bavarian elections in 1990.