Villagers on tiny island vote for Schroeder's SPD

18th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

18 September 2005, HAMBURG - A small wind-swept island off the North Sea coast that in the past has been a bellwether in German elections handed a majority to the Social Democrats Sunday and incumbent chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. Groede Island, a glorified sand bar that is reachable only by boat and has just 19 inhabitants who live in a handful of thatched cottages, for the first time failed to match the national mood: Schroeder's coalition was defeated at the polls. The island also spoiled its tradition

18 September 2005

HAMBURG - A small wind-swept island off the North Sea coast that in the past has been a bellwether in German elections handed a majority to the Social Democrats Sunday and incumbent chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.

Groede Island, a glorified sand bar that is reachable only by boat and has just 19 inhabitants who live in a handful of thatched cottages, for the first time failed to match the national mood: Schroeder's coalition was defeated at the polls. The island also spoiled its tradition of 100-per-cent turnout. On Sunday, one of tiny Groede's 12 resident adults was visiting the mainland and could not catch a boat home to vote because of high winds.

Among the remaining nine, six voted Social Democrat, three for the Christian Democrats and one apiece for the Greens and Left Party. But nationally, the Social Democrats and Greens fell short of a majority. So did the Christian Democrats and their allies.

The tiny community is traditionally the first in Germany to announce the result of its vote count, and in the past it has served as a useful beacon of the nation's sentiment, hours before the whole nation's votes have been tallied.

There are no campaign posters and no election rallies on Groede.

Island spokesman Volker Mommsen, 45, announced the tally just after the polls closed at 6 p.m. German time. He is generally called the 'burgomaster' or mayor, but that seems a bit fancy for a place where there are only two families, the Mommsens and the Petersens.

If the mayor isn't somebody called Mommsen, then it's somebody called Petersen.

This flat and wind-swept island is their bleak home all year round. In the summer they turn their quaint cottages into bed-and- breakfast lodgings for mainland tourists.

Summer is also the time of year when the island's windy pastures are leased out to mainland livestock farmers.

It is an exclusive place. There's not that much pasture space, just as there are only five cosy holiday B&B rooms. With autumn here, the tourists have gone back to the mainland and the livestock will be going soon too.

"Yes, we have a proper ballot box with a lock on it and everything," said Mommsen earlier.

"Mind you, we all know pretty much how everybody is going to vote anyway."

In normal years, everybody casts their ballots by lunchtime.

"I'd just as soon count the ballots and relay the results right away and get the whole thing over with," he says. "But folks on the mainland frown on that sort of thing, so we wait until the official closing time of 6 p.m."

Under German law no election results can be released until after polls close.

Four years ago, the Social Democrats squeaked by to victory on Groede Island, just as they did nationally. During the 1990s, Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats swept to victory in the heady days after German unification.

DPA

Subject: German news, German elections

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