Jewish Vote Has Scant Impact in First All-German Elections
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Jewish Vote Has Scant Impact in First All-German Elections

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German voters, participating in their first free elections since 1932 as a single country, gave Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s conservative coalition its expected landslide victory Sunday and flatly rejected right-wing extremism.

The "Jewish vote," if any could be described as such, had little impact, even though the country’s 30,000 to 40,000 Jews are concentrated in the largest cities.

Jews have tended to support the Social Democratic Party, whose candidate for chancellor, Oskar Lafontaine, was roundly defeated. But many prominent Jews are active in Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union or its junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats.

In general, there were no Jewish issues in the pan-German elections. But in the region that was formerly East Germany, the reformed Communist Party, now known as the Party of Democratic Socialism, campaigned on the issue of free entry for Soviet Jewish emigres.

At the other extreme, the only one of the handful of reputedly neo-Nazi factions to make any showing was the Republican Party. But it fell far short of the required minimum for representation in the Bundestag, the national parliament.

The threshold was 5 percent of the popular vote in either former East Germany or West Germany, which were treated as separate constituencies for electoral purposes.

The Republicans exceeded 5 percent only in their native Bavaria, but averaged only 2.1 percent nationally.

They managed to draw 3.1 percent of the popular vote in Berlin, however, and will be represented in that city’s first united legislature since the end of World War II.

They are also eligible under German law for $3 million to $4 million in public funds allotted to political parties on the basis of their electoral strength.


Franz Schonhuber, the former Waffen SS officer who heads the Republicans, professed to be satisfied with the results, although his party’s fortunes have been declining steadily at the polls.

Nearly two years ago, the Republicans created a political sensation by drawing 7.5 percent of the vote in West Berlin, emerging as the third strongest party there.

They later won 8 percent in the nationwide balloting in West Germany for delegates to the Parliament of Europe, the legislative body of the European Community.

But the party’s appeal began to wane. Schonhuber, who weathered a challenge to his leadership, now claims to have purged the party of its neo-Nazi elements. Nevertheless, the party has continued to campaign for Germany’s prewar borders, which would include a large area of Poland.

But since the unification of East and West Germany in October, the right wing has lost its most potent political issue. None of the other purportedly neo-Nazi parties achieved even 1 percent of the vote Sunday. Nevertheless, political observers are uneasy over the possibility that social and economic problems arising from unification might give new life to political extremism.

They note that many neo-Nazi groups have emerged recently in what had been East Germany, where the economy is in shambles.

In fact, there are more organized right-wing extremists in the East, with a population of 16 million, than in former West Germany, with 64 million inhabitants.

The Party of Democratic Socialism in former East Germany was the only party that courted the tiny Jewish vote with its appeal on behalf of Soviet Jewish refugees.

Soviet Jews have been arriving at a rate of about 20 a day, and while the Bonn government expresses sympathy, it has made clear that Germany is not an immigrants’ country and it can absorb only limited numbers.

Still, the PDS aired television commercials insisting that any Jew who wants to settle in Germany be allowed to.

The party, which appeals largely to left-wing intellectuals in former West Germany, portrays itself as a sensitive, self-critical group. Its leader, East Berlin lawyer Gregor Gysi, takes pride in his Jewish origin.

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