BONN — A shaky East German government agreed this morning to end 40 years of outright Communist control and advance free elections by nearly two months to try to stabilize a country whose citizens are fleeing at a rate of almost 3,000 a day.
After a marathon meeting, Prime Minister Hans Modrow and representatives of more than a dozen opposition groups decided to create a broad, largely non-Communist coalition government to rule until elections now scheduled for March 18.
The objective is to prevent hundreds of thousands more East Germans, skeptical of Communist intentions, from moving West. Elections had been scheduled for May 6. Today's action cut the election campaign by half.
Modrow, who is to remain prime minister, said the new date will guarantee "free and secret elections."
The new coalition, which Modrow called a "government of national responsibility," will include the Communists, the four small parties that have held minor posts in East Germany since the 1940s and more than a dozen of the new opposition movements formed since the peaceful revolution last fall.
Among the entering groups are New Forum and Democratic Awakening, two of the grass-roots movements that organized massive demonstrations leading to the collapse of East Germany's hard-line Communist regime and the opening of the Berlin Wall last fall.
The new, nonpartisan government is to take office in early February. Proposals for organizing the coalition are due by Wednesday.
More than 45,000 East Germans have moved to West Germany this month alone, often expressing skepticism that the Communists would give up power. In street demonstrations and interviews, East Germans have complained that the new political groups that oppose the Communists have failed to embrace the people's primary desires--reunification with West Germany and a swift shift to a Western-style market economy.
The latest exodus comes on top of the 350,000 East Germans who fled last year after travel restrictions were lifted and the Berlin Wall opened.
The mass migration has sapped East Germany of many of its most productive workers. In recent weeks, East German soldiers and volunteers from West Germany have been needed to keep East German factories and hospitals operating.
Throughout the eight-hour negotiating session, Modrow resisted demands by opposition leaders that he drop his Communist Party membership before they would join a caretaker government. Opposition leaders had insisted that all members of the government suspend their party affiliations until the elections.
Ibrahim Boehme, chairman of the opposition Social Democrats, said the idea of holding early elections stems from the Communists' refusal to give up their party membership. "So we decided to move up the elections," Boehme said. "This was a favorable solution."
The legal authority of the new government is uncertain. Opposition leaders are insisting that they have the right to approve all legislation.
The Communists control 15 of the 27 ministries in the current government. Under the new structure, they are unlikely to get more than a handful of Cabinet positions.
Last week, Modrow asked the opposition to join the government to try to rebuild its credibility and reduce the flow of people through the border with West Germany.
Modrow had been respected as an honest reformer by opposition leaders and West Germany's government until last month.
Then, the Communists launched a clumsy attempt to stir fears and hold onto their authority by announcing the revival of the disbanded security police and by staging a media campaign warning of neo-Nazism.
Those moves led to renewed anti-Communist demonstrations around the country, warning strikes and increased emigration.