Extremists expected to scorebig gains in German elections
15 September 2004 , BERLIN - Amid voter anger over Germany's sour economy and high unemployment, extremist parties ranging from the far-right to the former communists are expected to score big gains in eastern German regional elections Sunday, polls show. Elections in the eastern German heartland come after failed moves to create self-sustaining growth following the wrenching lurch from communism to capitalism with reunification in 1990 - and the big parties are set to be punished, opinion polls say. Easte
15 September 2004
BERLIN - Amid voter anger over Germany's sour economy and high unemployment, extremist parties ranging from the far-right to the former communists are expected to score big gains in eastern German regional elections Sunday, polls show.
Elections in the eastern German heartland come after failed moves to create self-sustaining growth following the wrenching lurch from communism to capitalism with reunification in 1990 - and the big parties are set to be punished, opinion polls say.
Eastern German unemployment is over 18 percent, compared with just above 8 percent in western Germany.
Leading the rightist pack is the anti-Semitic, anti-foreigner National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) which is on target to win at least 9 percent in Saxony state while the German People's Union (DVU) is tracking at around 5 percent in Brandenburg, polls say.
"German jobs for Germans first!" demand DVU posters along roads in Brandenburg.
Meanwhile, former East Germany's communists - renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) - could grab the biggest overall share of votes in Brandenburg which surrounds Berlin.
Here the PDS could garner 31 percent, compared with 29 percent for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) who rule the economically troubled state in an awkward coalition with the Christian Democrats (CDU) as junior partner, pollsters say.
A PDS victory in the Brandenburg would be stunning upset 15 years after the opening of the Berlin Wall built by its hardline forerunner, the East German Socialist Unity Party under Erich Honecker.
But even if it gets the most votes, the PDS is highly unlikely to capture the post of state premier.
Indeed, most analysts agree the present governments in both states - Schroeder's SPD in alliance with the CDU in Brandenburg and the main opposition CDU ruling alone in Saxony - are expected to remain in power, but with sharply reduced majorities.
The real test of both elections is how well the parties on the extreme fringes manage to do.
Voter anger in eastern Germany has been fueled by planned cuts to jobless benefits by the Schroeder government. There have been mass protest with over 100,000 people in past weeks but the demonstrations now seem to be in decline.
Comments this week by Germany's mainly ceremonial president, Horst Koehler - that the country would have to live with big, regional economic differences - drew further eastern German outrage.
There is growing alarm in Saxony that a big NPD victory could damage the state's status as an economic frontrunner with investors.
American computer chip manufacturer AMD has invested billions of dollars in plants near Dresden and automakers BMW, VW and Porsche have set up cutting-edge plants in the state.
"If right-wing candidates make it into parliament we are sending the wrong signal to international investors," warned Saxony's Economics Minister Martin Gillo.
AMD spokesman Jens Drews was also blunt: "AMD has to be able to bring the best employees from anywhere in the world to Dresden - and they must be happy to live here."
It is doubtful if Americans or Asians would feel welcome anywhere close to the skinheads who attended NPD rallies this summer in Saxony garbed in black shirts, Iron Crosses and gothic script slogans vowing "National Resistance."
Unlike other rightist parties, the NPD has close ties to violent neo-Nazis who are estimated by the Verfassungschutz, Germany's domestic security agency, to number 13,000 nationwide.
Both the NPD and DVU make no secret of their dislike of foreigners who comprise about 7 percent of the German population with Turkish nationals, who number almost 2 million, being the biggest group.
"Have a good trip home," declares one NPD election poster with a picture of Turks carrying bags over their shoulders walking toward a minaret.
Germany's Verfassungsschutz says the DVU has a strong "affinity" with Adolf Hitler's Nazis and the Schroeder government tried to ban the NPD but the bid was slapped down by a court ruling last year.
Still, there may be a silver lining in the extremist parties entering parliament, say some political leaders and experts.
Rightist parties have won seats in regional assemblies in Germany 14 times since the late-1980s - but in nearly all cases they have been tossed out in the following election after often breathtaking shows of incompetence and sometimes corruption.
"Freedom also means freedom for idiots," says Saxony-Anhalt state's CDU Prime Minister Wolfgang Boehmer.
Boehmer was confronted with the DVU's biggest ever election victory in 1998 when the extremist party won almost 13 per cent in his state. But in 2002 the DVU was booted out of the assembly.
"They only achieve one thing when elected: making fools of themselves," says Boehmer, who is a medical doctor known for his sober political analyses.
Karl-Rudolf Korte, a political scientist at the University of Duisburg-Essen agrees, saying: "These parties are divided and have scant political experience. Thus, they always fail to get reelected."
Germany, it must be stressed, differs greatly from other European countries such as France, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands in that it has never in the past decades had a single rightist leader.
The German far-right parties have not only failed to unify but have wasted resources fighting each other or slugging it out in inner-party turf battles.
Indeed, all the DVU and NPD managed to agree for the current state elections was not to run against each other in Brandenburg and Saxony.
Eckhard Jesse, an expert on far-right parties at the Technical University of Chemnitz, says rightists tend to send "incompetent" functionaries into office with no real political concepts.
"People get disenchanted with them and the whole thing is over pretty fast," he said in an essay in the Die Welt newspaper.
Subject: German news