Helmut Kohl's strong recovery in the polls puts him close to winning a fourth term as German Chancellor in Oct. 16 federal elections. But he's not a shoo-in. The chronic weakness of his coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), could still sabotage his bid.

In its latest electoral setback, the FDP was ousted from the east German state parliaments of Saxony and Brandenburg in Sept. 11 contests, gaining only about 2% of the votes. If the FDP doesn't make the 5% cutoff for Bundestag representation, Kohl might well fall short of a majority. If so, he might be forced into a coalition with the opposition Social Democrats--an outcome he has said he would not accept.

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