BERLIN -- Bjorn Engholm, the leader of the Social Democratic opposition in parliament, may be forced to give up his ambition to be head of Germany, leaving Chancellor Helmut Kohl virtually unopposed in next year's elections.
Accused of "bending the truth" about when he knew of a 6-year-old election scandal, Mr. Engholm must defend himself before the leadership committee of the Social Democratic Party.
If the allegations prove correct, he will almost certainly be asked to give up his plans to run against Mr. Kohl in elections late next year. He also will be advised to resign his party post and he may even have to give up his post as president of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.
If Mr. Engholm does fall, Mr. Kohl will be "alone on the mountain, a very high mountain, with nobody climbing up," in the words of an independent political observer.
Mr. Kohl, whose popularity rating has been skittering along at 28 percent, was called the luckiest chancellor in post World War II Germany by the same observer.
The Social Democrats will have little chance to prepare a candidate who can win before the 1994 elections.
Mr. Engholm, who has been losing credibility and popularity for weeks, received what looks to be the coup de grace in this week's edition of Der Spiegel, Germany's leading news magazine.
Der Spiegel reported that Mr. Engholm knew about dirty tricks in his 1987 campaign for the presidency of Schleswig-Holstein at least a week before he said he did.
Mr. Engholm was the target of a smear campaign initiated by the then-incumbent president, Uwe Barschel. Mr. Barschel was a member of the Christian Democratic Party, the governing party of Mr. Kohl.
Der Spiegel said Mr. Engholm learned about the tactics but said nothing because he thought the dirty tricks could be turned to his advantage. Mr. Barschel later committed suicide in Switzerland and Mr. Engholm went on to become president of the north German state.
Mr. Engholm misstated the date he learned of the dirty tricks when he testified before a special parliamentary committee investigating the campaign, according to Der Spiegel.
Mr. Engholm did not deny the Spiegel report, "a person can repress much in six years."
"I hope I can make clear to my friends [today], in what an extreme situation I then stood," he said.
But he had little visible support this weekend. Social Democratic politicians said Mr. Engholm must put all the facts on the table today.