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German Votes May Weaken Schroeder

September 4, 1999

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ Elections in two German states on Sunday could weaken Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s hold on the upper house of parliament and force compromises on his proposed austerity program, which he insists is needed to nudge the economy.

Schroeder’s Social Democrats currently hold the power in the two states _ tiny Saarland in the southwest with a population of 1.1 million, and rural Brandenburg in the east, which surrounds Berlin and has a population of about 2.5 million.

Top candidates in Brandenburg urged voters to take part in the election to prevent a far-right party from winning.

Both Manfred Stolpe, the Social Democratic governor of Brandenburg, and his top opponent, Christian Democratic Union candidate Joerg Schoenbohm, told Berlin b.z. newspaper that they were concerned about the rightist German People’s Party, or DVU, winning five percent of the vote.

Stolpe said the more people that vote, the less chance the DVU has of winning.

Polls show Schroeder’s party losing support, mostly because the Social Democrats are split over the chancellor’s planned $17 billion budget cuts and a pension reform. Leftist Social Democrats call the budget cuts socially unjust, but Schroeder insists they are needed to boost the economy and fight joblessness.

A low turnout could give the rightists a seat in parliament.

Schroeder has a majority in the lower house of parliament. But the budget must also pass the upper house where the states hold power. He is two votes short of a majority, which puts his budget plans in jeopardy.

Financed by a Bavarian publisher, the DVU has invested $1.4 million in election advertising in Brandenburg, stressing anti-foreigner themes. In Brandenburg, the Social Democrats appear down about 10 percentage points since the last election, to about 44 percent. The Christian Democrats and the PDS, successor party to the East German communists, trail with about 23 percent each.

Polls in Saarland show the Social Democrats and conservative Christian Democrats about even.

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