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Ominous signs for Schmidt's ruling party

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Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's Social Democratic Party has been dealt yet another blow.

The opposition conservatives have come one step closer to taking over the federal government after more than a decade in the wilderness.

And West German politics is entering a period of turbulence in the 1980s with the rise of the Green environmentalist and antinuclear party.

These are the conclusions that West German observers are drawing after the March 21 election in Lower Saxony that gave the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) an absolute majority in the state legislature for the first time and gave the Social Democratic Party (SPD) its worst showing in the state in 27 years.

The election did not bring any change of minister-president in the northern coastal state of Lower Saxony. Ernst Albrecht remains in office, with his hopes of becoming the next CDU chancellor candidate strengthened by a 2 percent increase in votes to 50.7 percent for 87 seats in the 171-member legislature.

The SPD's troubles come not alone from its 36.5 percent of the vote and 63 seats - down a dramatic 6 percent from the 1978 election. Lower Saxony used to be a Social Democratic stronghold.

The woes arise also from the stimulus the Lower Saxony election gives to the liberals -- who are in a decade-old federal coalition with the Social Democrats -- to shift back to a coalition with the conservatives at federal level.

The liberals were in coalition with the conservatives in the 1960s prior to joining with the SPD, and it is only the Liberals' strength in the Bundestag that gives Chancellor Schmidt his 41-seat majority.

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