The center-right government of West Berlin suffered a severe defeat in a city-state election Sunday that saw an unexpectedly strong showing by a far-right party known as the Republicans, which campaigned on an anti-foreigner platform.
Voters gave governing Mayor Eberhard Diepgen’s conservative Christian Democrats only 36.9%--a slump of nearly 10 percentage points from the last election four years ago. It lost 22 seats in the outgoing 144-seat West Berlin legislature.
The junior partner in the Berlin ruling coalition, the liberal Free Democrats, failed to gather the necessary minimum 5% and lost their 12 seats in the Berlin legislature. But the left-wing Alternative List, West Berlin’s version of West Germany’s Greens party, held on to its 15 seats in the legislature with 11.5% of the vote.
It was not immediately clear Sunday night whether Mayor Diepgen could continue in office, although political observers speculated that he might form a so-called grand coalition with the opposition Social Democratic Party, which polled 38%.
The results shook the Christian Democrats in the capital of Bonn, and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said late Sunday that it was a “heavy election defeat.”
The big surprise, and one that worried many West German political observers, is the newly won power of the Republicans--an extremist group that has a national membership of about 7,000. The national chairman is Franz Schoenhuber, a former officer in Adolf Hitler’s elite SS troops, who had to resign a post with Bavarian radio when he wrote a book glorifying his Nazi past. The party leader in West Berlin is Bernhard Andres, a 37-year-old policeman.
“Today the Germans have shown again the need for a democratically-purified patriotism,” Schoenhuber said on West German television after the returns were in.
His party polled 8.5% of the vote, well over the 5% needed for representation in the legislature, and was awarded 11 seats.
It was the first time that the far-right Republicans, founded in 1983 in Bavaria, had reached the 5% mark and gained representation in a state election. West Berlin, like Hamburg and Bremen, has the status of a state, but it is not a fully integrated part of West Germany as a result of post-World War II agreements.
The Republicans were originally created as a far-right alternative to the conservative Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of the national Christian Democrats.
Failed in Other States
Since then, they have run in other West German state elections but failed to poll the necessary 5% for representation in the legislatures.
The coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats had governed West Berlin since 1983, and Diepgen had been expected to lead the two parties to another victory Sunday.
Diepgen, 47, said the results were a “real surprise” and called the Republicans’ showing “catastrophe.”
West Berlin Social Democratic leader Walter Momper said the success of the Republicans will damage West Berlin’s international image.
When Republican party leaders arrived at Berlin City Hall for postelection statements Sunday night, they were called “Nazis” by protesters.
Law and Order
Like France’s far-right party, the Republicans campaigned for law and order and against drug abuse and foreign workers.
West Berlin has 150,000 Turkish residents, the largest such community outside Turkey, who make up about 10% of the city’s population.
Strong Republican support came from West Berlin working class districts, political analysts said, where unemployment is high and competition for jobs stiff.
The election was viewed as a setback to the political fortunes of Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democrats.
In elections held in eight states since national balloting returned Kohl to office two years ago, the Christian Democrats have lost support in six.