Hamburg leaders woo 'anti-party': Rebels likely to gain share of regional power

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AN ANTI-PARTY - a sensible, German equivalent of the Monster Raving Loony Party - yesterday seemed almost within reach of regional power-sharing, after the collapse of coalition talks between the Social Democrats and the Greens in Hamburg.

The Instead-of-a-Party was set up earlier this year in order to challenge the power of the established parties. It had almost no clear programme of its own, but emphasised only that it wanted 'ordinary people to be allowed to have a say'. The established parties shrugged the Instead Party off as ridiculous and irritating.

But Markus Wegner, leader of the Insteads, showed that the establishment was just as laughable. Electoral disenchantment was such that his Instead-of-a- Party gained more than five per cent of the vote in elections in September, winning eight seats in the regional parliament.

The Social Democrats (SPD), though still the single largest party, suffered what was officially admitted to be a devastating defeat in which their share of the vote dropped almost 10 per cent. The Christian Democrats also received fewer votes than before, down to 25 per cent. It was the outsiders who did best: the Greens almost doubled their share of the vote to 13 per cent; and the success of the Instead Party shocked the main political parties out of their complacency.

Since the elections, there has been an endless round of negotiations, especially with the Greens (who are now, in effect, the left wing of the SPD). But the discussions foundered, on Wednesday night. The mayor of Hamburg, Henning Voscherau, said he could not understand why the Greens had pulled out. But a clearly angry Krista Sager, leader of the Greens in Hamburg, accused the SPD of inflexibility, saying the Greens had offered endless compromises to no effect.

The spotlight is now on Markus Wegner, earnest publisher and Instead Party founder-leader, who, while rejecting participation in a conventional coalition - he says he does not want his party to be expected to toe a line - has expressed interest in 'co-operation' with the Social Democrats. Mr Wegner is a former Christian Democrat, whose court complaint against the undemocratic way that candidates' lists were drawn up in the previous election brought about the elections. He is thus disliked by the Christian Democrats and by some among the Social Democrats who blame him for creating the uncertainties.