German alarm at far right gains

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THE FAR RIGHT was much the biggest winner in elections in the German region of Hesse yesterday, gaining victories which will set off alarm bells throughout the country.

The xenophobic Republican party, headed by Franz Schonhuber, a former member of the Waffen-SS, took about 10 per cent of the vote in Frankfurt and 8 per cent throughout the surrounding region. Under the German system, 5 per cent is the crucial barrier which must be broken for a party to be able to gain seats.

The Social Democrats, regionally the largest party, looked set to lose heavily - down by about

8 per cent overall, but by up to

20 per cent in some areas. The Christian Democrats made smaller losses, and the Greens looked set to make slight gains.

The elections in Hesse, with its 4 million voters, are the only chance for Germans to express preferences until the year's end, and are being seen as a test of national mood in advance of next year's federal elections. Yesterday's results will, therefore, seem all the more shocking in Bonn.

The Republicans' gains reflect an enormous disillusion with established parties. It is still uncertain whether yesterday's vote is primarily a mid-term rebuke, or a serious warning of what is to come. Either way, it will be difficult for mainstream politicians to find any cause for optimism.

Even the heavy Social Democrat losses can provide little comfort for the Christian Democrats, since they seem to have picked up little of the anti-SPD vote. Both main parties have reason to be rueful about the voters' resounding slap in the face.

The Republicans have scored electoral successes before. Last year in the region of Baden-Wurttemberg, for example, they gained almost 11 per cent of the vote. But there has been an enormous effort in recent months to reverse the trends towards xenophobia.

There has been a nationwide propaganda blitz against Fremdenhass, or hatred of foreigners, especially after the arson-murder of a Turkish woman and her niece and granddaughter in the town of Molln last November. Yesterday's results suggest all this well-meaning propaganda has had little or no effect where it is most needed.

'This represents a massive loss of hope that those in power still have the will and the ability to solve our problems,' the conservative newspaper Die Welt commented in this morning's edition.