Hamburg's left dented by xenophobic poll tactics

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The Independent Online
Social Democrats in Hamburg received a sharp rebuke from the voters yesterday after one of the most xenophobic campaigns conducted by the left in post-war Germany. As the electorate deserted them, the anti-foreigner sentiment whipped up by the outgoing Social Democrat mayor, Henning Voscherau, propelled a racist fringe party to within a whisker of the regional parliament.

"All the Social Democrats achieved was to bring the Brownshirts into the assembly," said a spokesman of the opposition Christian Democrats. The SPD and CDU tailored their campaigns to appeal to voters frightened by a rise in violent crime, blamed on foreigners from East Europe. The proposed single European currency was the other contentious issue, with Mr Voscherau calling for a delay.

Projections based on early results last night gave the Social Democrats, who have ruled in Hamburg for 40 years, 37 per cent of the vote, 4 per cent down on the result four years ago. The Christian Democrats were forecast to have 31 per cent, about 5 per cent more than last time.

Although Mr Voscherau could still form a coalition, he admitted that the result had "exceeded his pain barrier" and resigned.

The Social Democrats failed again to capitalise on the unpopularity of the government, led by Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats. It is hard to see how Mr Kohl will be dislodged in next year's elections.

The most shocking beneficiaries of the SPD's campaign were the German People's Union (DVU), which came within 238 votes of gaining an entry to Hamburg's legislative assembly. Unofficial results put them at 4.97 per cent - just short of the required threshold of 5 per cent.