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Germany

SPD Braces for Tough State Polls

Members of Chancellor Schröder's SPD party in the German states of Saxony and Brandenburg fear voters are planning to vent their anger at the federal government's economic reforms during this Sunday's local elections.

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Hard left and extreme right parties are poised to do well

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SPD) is likely to suffer heavy losses in the two eastern state polls this weekend. Nationwide demonstrations taking place every Monday against the government's program of economic reforms and welfare cuts have been particularly strong in the formerly communist eastern half of the country.

That's because labor market reforms that will soon go into effect have a proportionally bigger effect on the people in the economically depressed east, where unemployment is more than twice as high as in the west.

Most opinion polls showing the SPD will get hammered both in Brandenburg and Saxony to the benefit of the far-left PDS party and smaller extreme right parties. While the Social Democrats hope to hold on to power in Brandeburg, they have no chance against the conservative opposition in Saxony.

CDU successful in Saxony

Seen as one of the most economically successful former East German states, the conservative Christian Democratic Union has held control in Saxony since German reunification in 1990. The SPD earned just 11 percent of the vote - and its worst election defeat - in 1999.

Georg Milbradt

Georg Milbradt expects his past success to help him to another term as hed of Saxony

"Why lie about it? We've had a lot of success," the state's premier Georg Milbradt (photo) put it succinctly. "We have to do more, but it would be wrong to pretend nothing has happened."

Thanks in part to government investments, the area around Saxony's capital, Dresden, has become an important location for micro-electronics and public funds have also convinced Volkswagen, BMW and Porsche to revitalize the Saxon automobile industry.

PDS stands to gain

If there is any reason for the CDU to worry about its absolute majority in the Saxon parliament, then it's the Party of Democratic Socialism, East Germany's former Communist Party, that's posing the biggest threat.

The PDS can count on 20 percent of the vote and probably could have had more if allegations its candidate used to be involved with the Stasi, East Germany's former secret police, had not arisen.

"I think it is an unusual situation," PDS candidate Peter Porsch said. "One thing I can say for sure is that I am going to lead this PDS in the next parliament, whether it's in the opposition or the government."

Proteste gegen Schröder in Brandenburg

The PDS has been using protests to show its displeasure with Schröder's government

The PDS is also strong in Brandenburg, where Dagmar Enkelmann has high hopes for the party she's leading into the Sept. 19 elections.

"I want to become the state's premier," she said. "There is finally a chance for a political change toward more social equality in this state."

Officials, however, believe Brandenburg's Matthias Platzeck (SPD), the state's ruling premier and most popular politician, would rather continue to share power with the CDU, not the PDS.

Rise of the right

The Green Party as well as the neo-liberal Free Democratic Party could also garner more than the 5 percent of votes needed to enter the state parliaments in Saxony as well as Brandenburg.

But it's the right-wing extremist parties that have caused the most commotion. In Saxony the neo-Nazi National Party (NPD) is expected to earn around 10 percent of the vote and the populist, anti-immigrant German People's Union (DVU) may get seats in Brandenburg's legislature.

Plakate der rechtsextremen NPD gegen die Reformen von Hartz IV hängen am Montag (16.08.2004) an Lichtmasten einer verkehrsreichen Straße in Leipzig.

The right-wing NPD is taking advantage of labor reforms to push its extremist agenda

In a state election earlier this month, the NPD surpassed expectations by getting 4 percent of the vote in Saarland, a western state where the party usually finds little resonance among voters.

The extremist parties' rise in popularity has all the mainstream parties campaigning for citizens to exercise their right to vote, hoping to minimize the right-wing's influence through high voter turnout.

"To get a stable government we need high voter turnout, because that's the only guarantor that the extreme right won't be able to shape the state," Platzeck said. "That's something we have to prevent."

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