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Europe

German Press Review: Shrunken Center

German papers on Tuesday were wondering how worried they should be about the high returns for two far-right parties in Sunday's two state elections.

The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung in the west of the country was pretty concerned. There's no use saying that Germany is a secure democracy, the paper wrote. Once the extremists have built up some speed, it'll be all the harder to stop them -- so the motto must be: Stop them at the start, the daily commented. The established parties must make it absolutely clear that they are the only legitimate representatives of the citizens' interests, a process that has obviously failed in Saxony and Brandenburg, the paper concluded.

Extremism thrives on provocation and that only works if the one who's provoked plays along, the Esslinger Zeitung from southwestern Germany assessed in a less worried editorial. The number of real far-rightists is quite small and they can only succeed with a lot of protest voters in tow, the paper said. Germans need to be more self-confident and relaxed, democracy won't be destroyed by a few far-right members in a couple of state parliaments. The best course of action is to ignore them, the paper added.

It was the people who decided not to vote at all that caught the attention of the Thüringer Allgemeine from Erfurt in eastern Germany. It pointed out that they were not all people who lost out as a result of political reforms or members of the poor exploited masses. Many of them are doing all right with an annual holiday and a big car, but they can't see the connection between stable political conditions and their own prosperity, the paper analyzed. Those who leave the polling stations to the extremists should not be surprised if they end up suffering -- it was the whole of east which lost last weekend, the daily concluded.

The Stadt-Anzeiger of Cologne made an another point about the tactic to be adopted against the far right. People like the National Democrats want to be excluded by the political establishment, it observed. The unemployed eastern Germans who voted for them, hear the expressions of disgust and see themselves confirmed in their decision to show those at the top what they think of them. It was stupid of the mainstream parties to walk out of the election studio when the National Democrat began to speak, the daily reflected. If it's true that the people who voted far right did so because they felt abandoned by the established parties, then the scene was another symbol for that feeling.

As a result of the elections, both states will probably be governed by a so-called grand coalition of the two big parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. "Grand coalition?" Germany needs a new term for the situation, the Financial Times Deutschland remarked. It's hardly appropriate as a description of the situation when the Christian Democrats in Saxony are forced to combine with a tiny party called the Social Democrats which failed even to win 10 percent of the vote. The term "grand coalition" is also inappropriate when you think that both parties together only got a bit more than 50 percent of the vote -- and only 30 percent if you count non-voters. It's much the same in Brandenburg. The Financial Times Deutschland described the constellation as "a coalition of the shrunken center ground," and it opined that the same term could well turn out to be the model for the national government after the 2006 election.

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