Communists may win balance of power in German elections

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The Independent Online
THE COMMUNISTS have signalled their readiness to become the arbiters of power in Germany as the election race nears the finish with the two main runners neck and neck.

Polls published yesterday confirmed Gerhard Schroder, the Social Democrat challenger, to be two points ahead of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Already, Mr Schroder's plan to forge a coalition with the Greens after Sunday's elections is looking unrealistic because his lead over Mr Kohl is slipping away.

Who forms the next government may well be decided by a few thousand voters in eastern Germany. Both Chancellor Kohl and Mr Schroder have become hostage to a complex electoral system, in which tiny shifts in the support received by the Party of Democratic Socialism could represent a difference of up to 30 seats in the new parliament.

The PDS, led by Gregor Gysi, seems almost certain to win two of the four seats in east Berlin that it captured in 1994. If the party also takes one of the two other seats, which are marginals, or amasses 5 per cent of the national vote (polls suggest it will), the PDS will become eligible for more seats in parliament under the election's proportional representation rules.

Jurgen Trittin, the Greens' campaign co-ordinator, appealed to his supporters in Berlin to vote for the Social Democrats. Only they can stop the PDS in the two marginals, and stop the communists emerging as king-makers after Sunday. As the polls stand, neither Mr Kohl nor Mr Schroder will be able to obtain the absolute majority required to form a government if the PDS get its third seat, or 5 per cent. Although the Social Democrats have formed alliances with the communists in regional administrations in the east, they have forsworn a national deal.

The Greens, whose supporters in the east are former anti-communist dissidents, are even more hostile. "I'd rather go into opposition than be in a government dependent on the PDS," the Green parliamentary leader, Joschka Fischer, said.

In the eyes of most left-wingers in the west, the PDS remains an unreconstructed communist party.

To most Germans, it would be a travesty if the communists were to determine the outcome of these elections. For this reason, there is an increasing likelihood that the two big parties - Mr Schroder's Social Democrats and Mr Kohl's Christian Democrats - will be forced into a "grand coalition".