German old left finds new strength

THE TWO most popular politicians in east Germany yesterday stormed to victory in state elections which saw a sharp rise in support for the region's former Communists.

The strong showing of the reformed Communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) indicated that it may break through the five per cent hurdle required to enter the Bundestag (the lower house of parliament). The PDS looked set to win 19 per cent in Brandenburg and 15 per cent in Saxony: dramatic improvements on its 1990 performances and a clear indication that it has consolidated its support among east Germans.

At the same time Kurt Biedenkopf, the Christian Democrat (CDU) prime minister of Saxony, looked set to clinch 54 per cent of the vote, thereby maintaining the absolute majority he won in the state's last election in 1990. Manfred Stolpe, the Social Democrat (SPD) prime minister of Brandenburg, also appeared to be heading for an absolute majority: in his case, the projected 53 per cent showing represented a 15 per cent rise on four years ago.

In both polls, the personalities of the incumbents weighed far more heavily with voters than their policies. Their triumphs could not therefore be taken as votes of confidence in either Chancellor Kohl's CDU or the opposition SPD, the main contenders in Germany's general election next month.

The high spirits in the PDS camps were matched by long faces at party headquarters of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) in Brandenburg (where it scored 2.3 per cent) and Saxony (2.9 per cent). For the fifth time this year, the FDP fell short of the five per cent mark in Lander (regional states) elections, adding further fuel to predictions that it will fail to gain re-election to the Bundestag.

The absence of the FDP from the Bundestag, where it has acted as junior coalition partner in successive governments under the CDU and the SPD, could have a decisive impact on the formation of the next government. Even if the CDU, with its Bavarian sister party the CSU, emerges as the largest single faction, it may be incapable of forming a majority government without FDP support.