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Right-wing Republicans Gain in West German Local Elections

The extreme right-wing Republican Party made new inroads Sunday in local elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, West Germany’s most populous state, much to the dismay of those who consider the party neo-Nazi.

The Munich-based party, headed by former SS official Franz Schoenhuber, did best in the largest cities.

In Cologne, the Republicans won 8 percent of the popular vote, taking seats in the city council formerly held by the Free Democratic Party, a member of the federal governing coalition.

In Dusseldorf, the state capital, the Republicans scored 6 percent, which gives them important leverage, considering the delicate balance of power there between the governing Christian Democratic Union and opposition Social Democratic Party.

Leaders of the mainstream parties in Dusseldorf and elsewhere promptly vowed never to enter coalitions with the Republicans. But observers wonder how long that resolve will last if the alternative is to relinquish power.

The Republicans followed a shrewd strategy, fielding candidates only in those localities where they could muster sufficient manpower and resources to build organizations to mobilize support.

Statewide, they did poorly, winning a mere 2.5 percent of the votes cast. But in most of the cities and towns they managed to win the 5 percent minimum required for seats in local legislatures.

They won 7.2 percent in Dortmund and 7.4 in Gelsenkirchen.

APPEAL TO WORKING-CLASS VOTERS

But the Republicans just barely missed entry into the city council of Bonn, the national capital. There, the party scored 4.9 percent of the popular vote.

To the surprise of many, the Republicans did better in urban localities than in the generally more conservative rural areas.

They were helped by an unimpressive turnout: 65 percent of the eligible voters, which is low by West German standards.

But other factors aided them as well. According to Johannes Rau, the popular prime minister of the state, the Republicans made the severe housing shortage a major campaign issue.

The party plays skillfully on fears of working-class Germans who may have to compete for housing and jobs with the influx of East German immigrants and ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe.

The Republicans have always campaigned on an anti-foreigner platform and on something vaguely called “democratically purified patriotism.”

Rau conceded that they took votes at the expense of his own Social Democratic Party in Germany’s largest state.

The North-Rhine Westphalia elections were part of a series of local contests that may forecast the outcome of national elections scheduled to take place in December 1990.

The latest opinion polls suggest the Republicans will do as well nationally as they have done locally, gaining the 5 percent needed for seats in the Bundestag, West Germany’s parliament.

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