BY CARL-ERIK ISACCSSON AND MARKLYN WILSON
BERLIN - The April 26 state elections in Saxony- Anhalt - the only state in eastern Germany to hold elections prior to the September federal vote - were closely watched across the country. The results reflected increasing political polarization, with the ultraright making big gains and the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) suffering heavy losses.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) remains the largest party in the Saxony-Anhalt government. It received 36 percent of the vote - 2 percent higher than in the 1994 elections, but well below the 44 percent that had been predicted. Reinhard Hoppner will remain state premiere. The turnout in the elections was 70 percent, compared to 55 percent in 1994. It was less of a victory for the SPD than in the elections in Lower Saxony in early March, where the Social Democrats won a majority of the seats in the state parliament.
The defeat for the CDU, the party headed by German chancellor Helmut Kohl, was much greater than expected. The CDU received just 22 percent of the vote, down from 34 percent in 1994. The CDU and Kohl were the winners in elections in eastern Germany in 1991 and 1994, as the chancellor took credit for the reunification of Germany. Chancellor Kohl campaigned heavily in Saxony-Anhalt leading up to the vote, attempting to rally support for CDU candidate Christoph Bergner.
But there is widespread disillusionment among working people today. Economically, Saxony-Anhalt is the hardest hit of the five eastern states. With one of four residents out of work, it has the highest unemployment rate of any German state, as well as the slowest growth rate.
In the former German Democratic Republic, Saxony-Anhalt was home to the some of the country's main chemical refineries and machine building plants. Employment in those industries has slumped from 200,000 to fewer than 40,000.
The big shake-up in the Saxony-Anhalt elections was that the German People's Union (DVU) received close to 13 percent of the vote. The DVU is an ultraright party that is sometimes labeled "Nazi" in the bourgeois press. This is the first time an ultraright party has won seats in a state parliament in eastern Germany.
As in the 1994 elections, the Free Democrats, Kohl's small but important coalition partner in the federal government, failed to reach the 5 percent mark needed to be seated in the Saxony-Anhalt parliament. The Greens, who did win seats in 1994 and had been in the state government with the SPD, polled only 3.2 percent.
The former ruling party in East Germany, now called the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), got 19.6 percent, slightly less than in 1994. The PDS has tolerated the minority coalition government of the SDP and the Greens in Saxony-Anhalt, hoping to play a bigger role in an SPD-led government later.
The DVU spent more than 3 million marks ($1.7 million) on their campaign -more than the SPD and CDU combined. They put up 30,000 posters and sent out 1.2 million pieces of mail, targeting young people. They even had planes with big banners circling bigger cities. But they arranged very few election campaign meetings.
A main theme in their campaign is scapegoating immigrants for the high unemployment in the state. They also played on resentment of the high pay and privileges of politicians.
According to the German daily Die Welt, their campaign put forward an undercurrent of anti-Semitism. One of their posters showed a picture of a young woman with a German flag and the slogan "Vote German! Vote DVU." Another states, "Keep the D-mark," referring to the German Deutsche mark, as compared to the projected single European currency.
The leader of DVU, which was founded in 1987, is Gerhard Frey, a publisher in Munich. He was also the spokesperson of the party after the elections in Saxony-Anhalt. When Frey and his supporters tried to enter the parliamentary building to celebrate their seats, they were greeted by a spontaneous demonstration of about 200 youth shouting "Nazis out!"
On May 1 the ultraright group National Democratic Party (NPD) is planning a demonstration in Leipzig. A range of unions, political parties, churches, and artists are planning a countermobilization there.
Officials of the CDU and SPD blamed each other for the DVU's high vote. Both parties are discussing the formation of a CDU-SPD government in Saxony-Anhalt.
Meanwhile, tensions are up between the Social Democrats and the Greens, who hope to share power with the SPD after the general elections in September. In late March the Greens ordered its members in parliament to vote against NATO expansion. The SPD candidate for chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, sharply criticized their position. "Nonsense will not become government policy," he declared. "Voters can know this for sure: in no government of mine will the radical pacifist wing of the Greens have a role to play." In their election program the Greens recently included demands to raise the fuel price to 5 marks a liter (about $10 per gallon), cut the size of the army by half, and withdraw German troops from Bosnia.
Marklyn Wilson is a member of United Transportation
Union Local 1432 and the Socialist Workers candidate for
U.S. Congress, 8th District, in San Francisco. Carl-Erik
Isacsson is a member of the metalworkers union in
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