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Hamburg Rebuffs Establishment in Tilt to Right : Germany: Two major parties suffer setbacks in local legislative elections. Greens party and a rebel movement score gains.

September 20, 1993|GREGORY CROUCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HAMBURG, Germany — The second-largest urban area in Germany, the city-state of Hamburg, rebuffed the country's two major political parties Sunday and almost put an extreme right-wing party into the local legislature, in a vote that could foreshadow trends in next year's national elections.

The ruling Social Democratic Party lost its majority in Hamburg but remained the largest party with about 40% of the vote, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union lost nearly a third of its former support, getting 25% of the votes.

Sunday's results marked the worst performance by both parties in Hamburg since the end of World War II.

Besides the alternative Greens party, which took 13.5% of the vote, almost double its previous showing, the only non-traditional party to win representation Sunday was a rebel movement formed only eight weeks ago, the so-called Instead Party.

Meanwhile, nearly 8% of voters cast ballots for two extreme right-wing parties. But neither of the two radical groups picked up the 5% minimum they needed to win representation in Hamburg's legislature.

Hamburg, a liberal city anchored by a world-famous port, is technically one of Germany's 16 states. Its election was the only state-level test of German voters until next year, when about 19 elections are scheduled throughout Germany, including those for the national Parliament, and thus, for chancellor.

Germany's politicians are facing a disillusioned and often angry constituency, which is losing faith that either mainstream party can solve problems such as widespread unemployment, rising crime, waiting lists for kindergarten spaces and an influx of refugees that has just begun to slacken.

The extreme right has benefited from public discontent and has won seats recently in three of Germany's state assemblies. Both right-wing parties campaigned in Hamburg on anti-foreigner themes, a subject fresh in German minds in the wake of neo-Nazi attacks that killed Turkish residents and the tightening in July of Germany's liberal asylum law.

Leaders of Germany's two biggest parties are so worried at the political outlook that there is talk of a "grand coalition" in 1994--something akin to the Republicans and Democrats joining forces.

The mainstream Social Democrats were concerned enough by the right-wing threat to persuade former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to come out of retirement after 10 years and campaign on their behalf.

Schmidt, a Hamburg native, warned voters against the right. "The very existence of our republic is at stake," he said.

Nevertheless, the rightist Republikaner party won 4.8% of the vote, up from just 1.2% in 1991 and just short of the 5% needed to enter the legislature. The German People's Union got 2.8%.

Sunday's election in Hamburg was court-ordered following a lawsuit by Markus Wegner, founder of the Instead Party. The former Christian Democrat accused his former party colleagues of using "undemocratic" methods of nominating candidates. The local constitutional court agreed, overturned Hamburg's 1991 election and ordered Sunday's balloting, in which the Instead Party got 5.6% of the votes.

Wilhelmsburg, a working-class section of Hamburg with a large population of immigrants, was expected to give right-wing parties a boost. But voters' comments there Sunday reflected the overall results.

Many expressed sympathy for foreigners, especially those from the former Yugoslav republics, but they were angry over what they characterized as special treatment.

Refugees seeking asylum in Germany are provided with housing and food money while they await decisions on their appeals. Until recently, the cases lasted two years or more.

Ingrid Zamora, a 63-year-old retiree, said she had to go to the government employment office every day after World War II and she did not get paid unless there was work. "We didn't get money for doing nothing," she said.

Zamora and her neighbors blamed foreigners for a rise in purse snatches and drug-dealing. Saleswoman Ute Berkner, 44, said a few of her elderly neighbors were thinking about voting right-wing. "The old people are afraid," she said.

Both right-wing parties in Hamburg--the Republikaner and the German People's Union--bombarded neighborhoods with pamphlets encouraging voters to "protest" against mainstream parties.

The German People's Union won a controversial court battle to advertise on television and radio. The party's ad started off with a cry from Tarzan, followed by an appeal from a refugee in broken German. "Asylum, asylum. I am being persecuted, Tarzan is here behind me. Give me asylum."

The ad concluded with the plea that "Hamburg must stay German."

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