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Germany

Ex-Communists Back in Power in Berlin?

The political shake-up that has unfolded in Berlin looks like it is going to produce a force that is unique in the politics of post-war Germany: A coalition between the social democratic SPD and the ex-Communist PDS.

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Looking back to the future; Klaus Wowereit, SPD (centre) and Gregor Gysi of the ex-communist PDS (left)

The dilemma is a painful one: the SPD in Berlin is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Whatever the Social Democrats do, parts of their electorate will be disgruntled. Either their voters in East Germany, or those in the west of the country.

The SPD may have won the elections in Berlin, but they need a coalition partner to form a government. The election result made three options possible: A coalition with the Christian Democrats, with the Greens and the Liberals combined - the so-called traffic light combination - or with the PDS.

Tough Choices

The Democratic Socialists (PDS), the re-named party of post-communists that had ruled East Germany until 1990, came in second in the municipal elections. But Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his SPD party leaders deemed the PDS an unacceptable partner to rule the capital. Schröder himself faces federal elections next year and cannot risk alienating the party.

A coalition of SPD, Greens and Liberals is the favoured model in the West. A large majority of east Germans however, had voted for the PDS.

The problem is, voters in the west cannot accept that the party historically responsible for dividing Germany could rule the capital. Voters in the east, on the other hand, cannot accept being kept out of the government. The PDS achieved nearly 50 percent of the votes in east Berlin, thereby legitimizing their right to be included in the government.

The alternative choice of partners is not much better for the SPD. A coalition with the Christian Democrats is problematic, because the SPD and the CDU government that had run Berlin before the elections fell apart amid claims of financial incompetence and wrongdoing.

Schröder, who had wanted a coalition with the Liberals and the Greens seems to have changed his mind about ruling with the PDS. Negotiations with the Liberals and the Greens have failed, ruling out the traffic light constellation for Berlin.

Forming a government with the PDS, the post-wall ex-Communists, looks likely to become a political reality. If so, they have their work cut out for them.

Berlin's debts amount to more than the gross domestic product of Morocco; its youth unemployment is more than twice the national average, and its economic growth is lower than that of any other German state.

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