Ghosts of the past

A regional election in Germany has confirmed fears that neo-nazis are part of the political landscape, reports Luke Harding

Guardian Unlimited/September 18, 2006

In the end, the result was as bad as everyone had feared. Germany's neo-Nazis pulled off a widely anticipated electoral coup last night, with the far-right winning 7.3 % of the vote during elections in the north east state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

The NPD comfortably exceeded the 5 % hurdle necessary to win seats. It will now sit in the state's regional assembly in Schwerin for the first time. This is the second time that the NPD has got into a regional parliament in three years, confirming fears that the party is now an established part of the political landscape, especially in Germany's depressed former communist east.

Ahead of yesterday's poll, hundreds of neo-Nazis flooded the rustic state, turning the party's stronghold town of Anklam into a neo-Nazi HQ. The tactic worked. In some Baltic villages in the east of the state, the NPD got as much as 15 % of the vote. The NPD did best where unemployment was highest. In many areas here it is more than 25 %.

This morning's German papers, reporting on the poll and yesterday's election in Berlin, gave a gloomy reaction. Der Tagesspeigel said there was no point in pretending that the NPD's voters - most of them under the age of 30 - had somehow been tricked into voting for a bunch of unashamed racists. "Whoever voted for this party, knew what they were doing," the paper said.

The Berliner Zeitung conceded that the "real winner" of yesterday's election was the NPD's leader in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Udo Pastörs. The fact that other parties treat him as a 'pariah' merely helps his cause, the paper said, adding: "Nobody had so many cameras and microphones thrust at him".

It was not clear this morning, meanwhile, what coalition would govern in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a lush Baltic region which includes Angela Merkel's seaside constituency. The Social Democrats (SPD) emerged as the biggest party with 30.2 % of the vote - but only after a night of heavy losses.

The state's SPD premier, Harald Ringstorff, now has to decide whether to continue his existing left-wing coalition with the post-communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) - or enter into a new one with the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

The CDU won 28.8 %; the PDS 16.8 %; and the right-wing liberal FDP party made it back into the assembly with 9.6 %.

In Berlin, the picture is a bit clearer. Berlin's popular Social Democrat mayor Klaus Wowereit was the undisputed winner of yesterday's election - winning 30.8 % of the vote in Berlin and another term as mayor. This morning's papers show him putting an affectionate arm round his partner, Jörn Kubicki.

Wowi, as Berliners call him, now has to decide whether to govern in coalition with the Greens or the PDS. The Greens did better than expected with 13.1 %.

Die Linke - as the PDS is known - had a terrible night, and saw much of their support, especially in east Berlin, evaporate. The party polled 13.4 %, almost 10 % less than during the last election in 2001.

Two trends this morning appear clear. Firstly, the neo-Nazis in Germany appear to be here to stay. Secondly, the Christian Democrats do not appear to have benefited much from the fact that their leader Angela Merkel is Germany's chancellor, and the head of a 'grand coalition' government in Berlin with the Social Democrats. Her long term ability to win elections is still in doubt.

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