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Shades Of Weimar: Protest Parties Proliferate From Voter Discontent

March 12, 1994

BONN, Germany (AP) _ One new protest party is called ″Instead.″ A second -″David Against Goliath″ - flings verbal stones at the big parties. Another preaches that Germany’s post-unity ills would dissolve if people meditate so hard they levitate.

Nourished by voters’ disenchantment with the way the established parties are dealing with record unemployment and other issues, more than 100 fringe parties have sprung up across Germany since unification in 1990.

Some say this proliferation is good for democracy.

But it also evokes memories of the Weimar era, when a splintering of the political system paralyzed the government and Germans turned to Adolf Hitler for answers.

A record 50 protest parties plan to compete with the four mainstream parties, with the radical-right Republicans and with the environmentalist Greens in the Oct. 16 national balloting and seven state elections this year.

The first big election occurs Sunday in Lower Saxony state. The mainstream Social Democrats are expected to win, but the election could show whether the new protest parties might become important national players.

No protest party has a prayer of taking over the federal government. But they are making waves in a country in a deep recession.

Voters see their own real incomes falling. Mainstream politicians are seen as raising their own pay and perks. Repeated scandals have forced political resignations.

Norbert Lepszy, pollster for a think tank associated with Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democrats, frets that little parties could win so many seats in the federal parliament that both Christian Democrats and Social Democrats would be denied a majority and have to form a ″grand coalition.″

What if the grand coalition crumbles because the two big parties can’t agree? he worries. A new election would follow. What if fringe parties pick up more support in that vote? It would be even harder to put together a workable coalition.

Such a scenario could put Germany at the dawn of an era in which the government is prone to easy collapse. Italy is a prime example.

Germans have never been so dissatisfied with the parties that have dominated national politics since the war. That means there is no predicting how the new little parties will do on Oct. 16, Lepszy says.

″More than 30 percent of the populace hasn’t decided who to vote for,″ the pollster says.

But Dieter Roth, head of the Election Research Group in Mannheim, predicts no fringe party will capture the 5 percent vote minimum to enter the Bundestag, the more powerful of parliament’s two houses.

″Germans take the federal election very seriously. They know you can’t just take someone off the street and make him a member of the Bundestag,″ Roth says.

The serious new parties, however, see nothing wrong with challenging the monopoly of the four established parties: the Christian Democrats, the Bavarian Christian Social Union, the Free Democrats and the Social Democrats.

Carl Jarchow is deputy leader of the Statt Partei, or the Instead Party, the most prominent fringe party. It started as a protest in Hamburg, now has about 2,000 members and has been part of the coalition governing Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city, since December.

In a nationwide survey, 29 percent said they would consider voting for Instead.

″The established parties see us as a big threat now. We want to use this to make them change the way they handle problems and people,″ Jarchow said.

The party is running in the Lower Saxony election, but so is another party that stole its name - ″The New Instead Party.″

Jarchow finds this ″galling″ because the second party was founded by a former member of the Republicans, Germany’s largest radical-right party.

Another new far-right party is the League of Free Citizens, founded by former Free Democrat Manfred Brunner.

Brunner preaches that uniting Europe is a big mistake and Germany should further tighten its rules on admitting refugees.

Brunner insists his group is respectable.

But that has been questioned because of Brunner’s friendship with Austrian right-wing populist Joerg Haider and because some German right-wing extremists support Brunner.

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