No political concerto in Brandenburg: Democracy is losing its appeal in the east, writes Adrian Bridge in Potsdam

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TORSTEN FUHRMANN paused and then broke into a chuckle. 'Vote?' he asked incredulously. 'Of course I am not going to vote. CDU, SPD, FDP - what difference does it make? None of them are going to change anything here.'

Although it is barely four years since Mr Fuhrmann and his East German countrymen took to the streets to demand an end to Communism and to have free and fair elections, such views are now common on the streets of Potsdam, capital of the Land of Brandenburg, which on Sunday holds its first local elections since German unification in 1990.

But disillusionment with democracy runs even deeper. In addition to voter apathy, Brandenburg is in the acutely embarrassing position of not having enough candidates to stand in the poll.

In almost 300 towns, villages and parishes nobody has come forward to stand for mayor. And in 24 cases there are not enough candidates to elect a local council.

'I have done everything I can to try to get someone to replace me but nobody is interested,' said Lieselotte Rabenseifer, the retiring mayoress of the village of Falkenrehde. 'They do not seem to realise that in future we will have no influence on decisions that affect us.'

Election officials in Brandenburg's interior ministry play down the significance of the lack of candidates, stressing that problems have arisen only in communities with populations of 500 or less, and pointing out that even if the overall turn-out drops to 50 per cent (against 70 per cent in 1990), it will still be on a par with voting in Switzerland or even the United States.

Less partial observers, however, see it as a damning confirmation of the general trend of political Vedrossenheit (disenchantment) in Germany and, more particularly, the extent to which people in the east feel alienated from the political culture they once rushed so eagerly to embrace.

'The east Germans are simply not used to participating in democracy . . . even the word 'party' still has a more negative ring to it than it does in the west,' commented the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. 'For most east Germans today the main priority is to look after number one.'

With unemployment in some parts of Brandenburg running at well over 30 per cent and still no sight of a definitive economic turnaround, many recall with bitterness Chancellor Helmut Kohl's election promises in 1990 that the east would soon be a 'blossoming landscape' and feel they were duped.

Support for Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democrats, who achieved 24 per cent in 1990, is expected to slump on Sunday, while the Social Democrats, Brandenburg's ruling party, should do at least as well as the 28 per cent achieved four years ago. Both parties will be watching the results for an indication of voting intentions ahead of next year's marathon of polls at the regional and European levels, culminating in a general election.