German Unification Boosts Free Democrats
THE name Hans-Deitrich Genscher is a quick reminder of how much Chancellor Helmut Kohl depends on his coalition partner, the centrist Free Democrats (FDP). Mr. Genscher, foreign minister for the last 16 years and Germany's most popular politician, belongs to the FDP, which has been governing along with Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democrats (CDU) for the last eight years. Genscher has enjoyed the limelight this year, coordinating the external aspects of reunification.
According to Hans-Rolf Goebel, spokesman for the FDP, Genscher is one reason why the Free Democrats made a decent showing in the latest German state elections on Oct. 14, mostly in eastern Germany where the party picked up 7.8 percent of the vote.
Unlike any of its competitors, the FDP tripled in size when it merged with its counterpart in eastern Germany last August.
The FDP hopes that with all-German elections on Dec. 2, it can push past its standing of the last two national elections and achieve a result in the two-digit category. At the moment, polls predict the Free Democrats will get 9.5 percent of the overall vote.
The FDP has traditionally been a small party with a reliable voting base. It advocates minimal government interference in the economy and is strongly supported by middle-size business. Free Democrats think of themselves as neither left nor right but in the middle of the political spectrum.
This is one reason why they are so crucial to German politics. The two mainstream parties, the CDU and the left-of-center Social Democrats (SPD) are unable to win absolute majorities in national elections.
The FDP, acting as the swing vote, wields considerable influence since it can can change partners. It did so in 1982 when it dropped the SPD for the CDU. Political analysts here see one major weakness in the FDP. It is too dependent on one man, Genscher, for success.