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Rise of Far Right a Warning to Merkel
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A far-right anti-foreigner party has embarrassed German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a regional election in her home state and delivered a wake-up call to her 10-month-old government.

The government has compared the National Democratic Party (NPD) to Hitler's Nazis, and analysts and columnists said the NPD's performance in Sunday's ballot was a rebuke for the grand coalition's fumbled first year.

The NPD polled 7.3 percent in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany's poorest state on the Baltic near Poland, claiming six seats in the 71-seat state parliament.

"In view of German history this is a disaster," said Christian Wulff, conservative state premier in neighboring Lower Saxony, referring to the country's Nazi past.

Several leading newspapers said the NPD's performance in a state that relies heavily on tourism was a clear warning to Merkel, whose right-left coalition took power in November and has yet to deliver on some of its promised reforms.

The state, suffering from a shrinking population and a jobless rate near 20 percent, is the third in ex-East Germany to vote the far right into parliament, joining Brandenburg and Saxony. The far right was in Saxony-Anhalt from 1998-2002.

"Wake Up Grand Coalition!" wrote Bild columnist Rolf Kleine. "The small parties, including the skinheads in the NPD, have triumphed in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The coalition is a fountain of youth for parties on the political fringes."

Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), who share power in the federal government, suffered in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern the ruling SPD lost 10 seats to 23 in the assembly and the CDU fell 3 to 22.

"You see how unpopular the grand coalition is because expectations were higher than what has been delivered," said Eckhard Jesse, a political scientist at Chemnitz University and far-right expert, in a commentary for the Hamburger Abendblatt.

Further evidence of voter frustration over the grand coalition's lack of progress on reforms was seen in a parallel state election in Berlin on Sunday.

Popular SPD mayor Klaus Wowereit managed to improve his score by 1.1 point to 30.8 percent, but the CDU fell to a post-war record low of 21.3 percent from 23.8 percent in 2001.

Even though it fell short of the five percent threshold needed for Berlin's state parliament, the NPD won enough votes to gain seats in four of the city's 12 local councils.
Udo Pastoers, a watchmaker who leads the NPD in Mecklenburg- Vorpommern and praised aspects of Hitler's policies on German television after the vote, said foreigners would have anything to fear in the state.

"It's possible for you to have that impression," he said. "Tourists are welcome, but we don't want asylum-seekers."

The Sueddeutsche newspaper reminded readers that the rise of the far right was not restricted to Germany.

"Can we comfort ourselves that political perversions are not a German specialty? It would be a comfort if, after its Nazi crimes, Germany was not like a dried-out alcoholic who is again reaching for the bottle."

Ulrich von Alemann, a Duesseldorf University political scientist, said the menace of the far right should not be exaggerated. "We won't be able to prevent it. We can't ignore them but we shouldn't panic either," he said.

(China Daily September 19, 2006)


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