Humiliating setback for Kohl in local poll

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The Independent Online
CHANCELLOR Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) suffered a humiliating defeat yesterday in local elections in the east German state of Brandenburg.

With 60 per cent of the vote counted, the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) were well ahead with 34.3 per cent, Infas polling service reported. The Christian Democrats, with 21.9 per cent, were neck-and-neck with the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) - the former Communists - which was polling 21.0 per cent. The centrist Free Democrats had 5.4 per cent and Alliance 90-The Greens 6.3 per cent.

If repeated nationwide in next year's general election, such a swing would result in Mr Kohl being swept from power. Even if confined to the east, such a rejection of the CDU would almost certainly lead to the formation of an SPD-led government in Bonn.

Commentators agreed that yesterday's trouncing in Brandenburg was a disaster for the CDU, which, in the last local elections in May 1990, emerged as the strongest party with 32 per cent against 28 per cent for the SPD and which later stormed to victory in a general election helped largely by eastern votes. Mr Kohl's promise then that the east would soon be a 'blooming landscape' returned to haunt him yesterday as the voters of Brandenburg, which in some parts has unemployment of more than 30 per cent, delivered their verdict. In addition to feeling deceived by the 1990 promises of swift prosperity for all, anti- CDU feeling was fuelled by the revelation last month that CDU leaders from west Germany who had come to run the government in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt had been improperly over-paying themselves.

Anger and resentment over the pain of German unification and the transition to market economics prompted many Brandenburg voters to put their faith in the more social-leaning SPD. But a surprisingly high number went further, endorsing the reformed-Communist PDS, which wants a greater state role in the economy and greater protection for those perceived to be the weakest members of society. The PDS, which in 1990 won only 17 per cent, campaigned as the only party that knew and understood east Germans and was able to represent their interests.

But although a vote for the PDS was for many a way of showing their disapproval of the main, western-led, parties, many more protested by not voting at all. The turn-out was about 60 per cent, compared with 75 per cent in 1990. In almost 300 towns and villages there was not even a candidate for mayor.