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Germany: Schroeder Faces East-West Political Problem

Munich, 30 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- How far are Germany's political parties preparer East German communists into democratic political life? Its a burning question in German politics following last weekend's elections in the eastern province of Saxony-Anhalt.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) won the most seats in the election but not enough to govern alone. It needs a partner. It has a choice of either going into coalition with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which lost heavily in the elections, or taking power as a minority government with the unofficial support of the post-communists, the PDS.

It is not just a local dilemma. Most analysts believe the answer could be politically crucial for the SPD leader, Gerhard Schroeder, who hopes to topple Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Christian Democrats in the federal elections in September.

It has already led to an open quarrel between Schroeder, who favors a coalition with the Christian Democrats, and local SPD politicians in Saxony-Anhalt. In television interviews some local politicians have accused Schroeder of "thinking with a western mind and ignoring the realities of Saxony-Anhalt." They blame Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his government for the economic problems in their Land, and say the CDU must not be invited into the local Government. Their position has been so determined that some German political commentators are already discussing the possibility of an east-west split within the SPD.

The official policy of the traditional German democratic parties: the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, the Free Democrats and the Greens has been to distance themselves from the PDS. The PDS is permitted to campaign in elections and, in fact, won 30 outs of 672 seats in the Federal parliament. But the Federal leaders of the traditional parties insist there should be no coalition agreements with the SPD.

In Saxony-Anhalt this demand was only partly heeded. The previous provincial Government was a coalition between the SPD and the Green environment party, but it stayed in power because of the unofficial support of the PDS. There was no formal agreement between them but without the support of the PDS the government would have failed. The Christian Democrats were in opposition.

This geometry fell apart in last weekend's election. The Greens failed to win a single seat. And there was the surge of unexpected support for the right-wing German People's Union (DVU) that put it into the Saxony-Anhalt parliament for the first time. In all this turbulence, support for the PDS remained stable, leaving it in third place with the same number of seats as before.

Immediately after the election, the SPD local premier Reinhard Hoeppner, flew to Bonn to confer with the federal party leadership. The Federal leader Gerhard Schroeder, told him that he was to try to negotiate a so-called grand coalition with the losing Christian Democrats and on no account was he to enter into a coalition with the PDS. Schroeder said even the previous unofficial support from the PDS could no longer be accepted.

Schroeder's reasons were politically sound in a West German sense. Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats have built up a campaign against the PDS, strongly suggesting that the party is still committed to introducing a modified form of communism in Germany. The federal SPD leaders feel that any ties with the PDS would be seized on by the CDU and could damage Schroeder's prospects for the Federal election. But when Hoeppner returned to Sachsen-Anhalt and tried to implement his orders, he ran into heavy opposition from within his own local Government. Two days ago several members of the Government told television interviewers that eastern Germany had a different view of the PDS to those in the West. "Schroeder thinks only of the fears created in the West," said one minister. "Here in the east we are not afraid of the PDS. They are our people who know our problems. Schroeder does not understand the suggestion here."

Hoeppner, squeezed between his own people and the federal leadership in Bonn, has responded by saying very little. He has said the CDU has to recognize that it was the big loser in Sunday's election. Of the PDS, he has said that he would talk to them.