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Schroder's party hits new depths of unpopularity

THE GERMAN Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, could be excused for confusing regional polls with visitations of the plague. For the third Sunday in succession, his Social Democratic Party plumbed new depths of unpopularity yesterday, scraping together barely 10 per cent of the votes cast in the Land of Saxony.

To put that figure into perspective, the ex-Communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) scored above 20 per cent. A week ago, when the PDS narrowly overtook the Social Democrats in Thuringia, another eastern region, the event was seen as a sensation, a historic first. Yesterday, Mr Schroder's party was not even in the race for second place.

Saxony was always going to be difficult. The Christian Democrats, lead by "King" Kurt Biedenkopf, a popular heavyweight from the West, had won 58.1 per cent of the votes five years ago. Mr Biedenkopf improved on that triumph only by 2 per cent this time. Disaffected Social Democrat voters, about one-third of the total last time round, switched largely to the ex-Communists. Turn-out was high, robbing Mr Schroder of his usual excuse about stay-away voters.

The crisis will now deepen in his party, just as storms are about to engulf his coalition partners, the Greens. They keep providing new definitions for the word "marginal". Last time around, the Greens scored 4 per cent in Saxony. Yesterday, they got half that, matching the percentage of the far-right Republicans.

The Greens in Saxony were led by Gunda Rostel, a rare East German of prominence in the national party. Ms Rostel is the party's co-leader, but probably not for long.

Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister, and the real power among the Greens even if he has no direct role in the party apparatus, is preparing a coup against Ms Rostel and the other co-leader, Antje Radcke. He blames them for the party's amateurism and abysmal performances, and now wants to gain control.

The Green party executive is due to meet today to discuss the proposals, which are certain to trigger another wave of political blood-letting. At least the spectacle will take the heat off Chancellor Schroder for a little while. And there are no further regional elections scheduled until next month.