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Monday, April 27, 1998 Published at 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK

World: Analysis

German elections: return of the far right?

Results are also good news for left-wing opposition leader Gerhard Schroeder

The Social Democratic Party has won a regional election in eastern Germany, pushing Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democrats into a poor second place.

But the big shock of the election was the performance of the far-right German People's Union - often accused of racism and anti-semitism - which won 13% of the vote. It is the best electoral performance for a German far right party since the rise of Nazism before the Second World War.

The Social Democrats gained, the Christian Democrats slumped and the German People's Union came from nowhere to win almost one in seven of the vote. The election was held Sunday in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, an area where unemployment runs at twice the national average.

[ image: Most far-right support is from the young]
Most far-right support is from the young
According to Thomas Kielinger, a distinguished German political commentator, West Germans will now realise that there is another half of the country that they have not really focused on too closely.

The vote for the far right party took all commentators by surprise.

Most of its support came from young Germans - under thirty - and the party was bankrolled by its millionaire party leader, Gerhard Frey.

Thomas Kielinger warns Germany's mainstream not to be complacent
It campaigns hard on two policies: it is anti-immigration, accusing foreigners of taking German jobs, and it is anti-Euro, the European Single Currency, which is due to replace the traditionally stable German Deutschmark in the next few years.

The Euro has been strongly supported by the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He is now campaigning for a record fifth term in office, in federal elections in September.

In the past two elections the Christian Democrats (CDU) performed strongly in east Germany - Kohl, after all, was the man who led Germany through the process of reunification.

Uncertain times for Chancellor Kohl

But yesterday the CDU polled a miserable 22%. Thomas Kielinger says the result signals an end to CDU government.

"Kohl only managed to scrape through in all of Germany because of the significant support that he was still able to muster in East Germany.

"If that vote evaporates there is nowhere for him to go and it is probably the beginning of the end."

The Social Democrats (SPD) - who gained seven seats - played up Kohl's loss.

Was the vote a fluke or a warning?

Their leader, Gerhard Schroeder, is now the favourite to take over from Kohl in September. The SDP Prime Minister in Saxony-Anhalt, Reinhard Hoeppner, said the SDP victory in the regional elections would enable the new government to continue to provide stability in the state.

"We have the task of forming a strong government for Saxony-Anhalt and everyone can rely on us to do that," he said.

But it is the victory of the German People's Union which has sent shock waves through Germany's democratic parties.

The big questions now are whether their success is specific to Saxony-Anhalt - a region of 3m people, whether it represents a positive vote for the far right, or if it is merely a negative vote against the established parties.

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