West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, seeking to pave the way for early elections that he expects to strengthen his grip on power, has laid plans to lose a vote of confidence in parliament today that will topple his 11-week-old coalition government.
Kohl introduced the motion on Tuesday when he told the West German legislature that his center-right government, which came to power on Oct. 1, had fulfilled its purpose by passing emergency measures to control the budget deficit.
The ruling coalition -- made up of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union, its allied Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union, and the small Free Democratic Party -- is expected to abstain in the voting to allow the opposition Social Democrats to bring down the government.
Kohl will then ask President Karl Carstens to dissolve the parliament and establish March 6 as the date for new elections.
This course is seen by Kohl as the best way to circumvent constitutional obstacles to midterm elections, which he feels are necessary to legitimize the center-right government formed after the Free Democrats broke with the Social Democratic Party and subsequently teamed with Kohl's party.
Kohl's short stint in power so far has boosted his popularity, and polls now show that the conservative parties could win an absolute majority of parliamentary seats.
At the same time, the Free Democrats have been hurt by internal squabbling and public disenchantment with their shifting allegiances. Their support in the public opinion polls has dwindled to little more than 3 percent, well below the 5 percent required to qualify for parliamentary seats.
For Kohl, the notion of winning an absolute majority and seeing the Free Democrats succumb to extinction would amount to a dubious victory.
He is acutely aware that for more than 20 years no single party has ruled West Germany, and he wants to retain the Free Democrats as a complementary force in a broad, more durable coalition.
He also hopes to keep Free Democratic leader Hans-Dietrich Genscher as foreign minister and deputy chancellor. If Genscher's party should fail to survive, Kohl might be forced to accept the ambitious Bavarian party leader, Franz Josef Strauss, as his second-in-command.
Strauss was badly defeated in 1980 by Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt, then the incumbent chancellor, but has not lost his taste for power. Some months ago, he reinforced his desire to become foreign minister with the comment, "I don't care who serves as chancellor under me."
In the expectation that the government's maneuvering will go according to plan, West Germany's major parties have been gearing up for an intense electoral campaign that augurs bitter debates in the coming weeks over the shape of the country's economic and security strategies.
The Christian Democrats already have blamed the country's rising unemployment and beleaguered finances on the 13-year stewardship of the Social Democrats and have adopted the phrase "With us, out of the crisis" as their campaign slogan.
In a speech this week summing up his first 75 days in office, Kohl contended that his center-right coalition had laid the foundations for recovery from the worst economic crisis in the nation's postwar history and responded to hecklers within the opposition by crying, "The voters will recognize on March 6 who was responsible for this disaster."
The Social Democrats, who have been hurt in the polls by Schmidt's decision not to run again for chancellor, have focused their campaign themes on the charge that Kohl is dismantling the country's extensive social welfare network and pursuing free market policies designed to redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich.
The deputy floor leader of the Social Democrats, Horst Ehmke, said that Kohl's rigorous plans for the economy were tantamount to "class welfare from above" and that the Christian Democrats were seeking in vain to solve "the problems of the l980s with the policies of the 1950s."
In a bid to glean some of Schmidt's flair as a renowned statesman, the Social Democrats' new candidate for chancellor, Hans Jochen Vogel, a former justice minister, intends to visit Washington and Moscow early next month.
Besides the economy, the planned deployment by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of Pershing II and cruise missiles in West Germany, due to begin next December if arms control talks between the United States and the Soviet Union fail to achieve progress, has become an emotional source of controversy that may dominate the election campaign.
The Christian Democrats have solidly endorsed NATO's so-called "twin track" decision to deploy the missiles in the absence of an arms control agreement with the Soviet Bloc and have sought to depict their presence in power as a return to better relations with Washington and other NATO allies.
The Social Democrats have seized on Kohl's close friendship with the Reagan administration as a sign that he is less prepared to defend West German interests in future policy conflicts with Washington.
With Schmidt no longer their candidate, the Social Democrats also are expected to make overtures toward pacifist elements by stressing a more flexible attitude on arms control talks with the Soviets.
The Social Democrats hope that such a shift might entice young left-wing and pacifist elements in the country to turn away from the Greens, a varied collection of ecology and peace activists, toward their party in the coming election.