- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

East Germany's renamed and resurgent communists are poised to return to power in Berlin, just 12 years after the wall that divided Germany's capital was demolished.
Berlin's city parliament will vote to dissolve tomorrow, paving the way for early elections on Oct. 22 that seem likely to bring the former communists, now running as the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), into the coalition government that runs the city.
The elections cap a furious six months in Berlin politics sparked by the scandal at a state-owned bank that toppled Eberhard Diepgen, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) mayor who had run the city for most of the past 15 years.
The center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), Mr. Diepgen's coalition partner for most of that period, formed a minority caretaker government with the Greens in June, and pushed for new elections.
But the real beneficiary of the chaos has been the ex-communist PDS, which, pollsters say, could hold the balance of power after the October vote. Gregor Gysi, the party's most charismatic leader and a veritable pop icon in Germany, relishes his role as the city's power broker.
"We have become an equal competitor to SPD and CDU," Mr. Gysi crowed during a news conference at his campaign headquarters in eastern Berlin. "Our main goal is to be part of the next government."
Recent polls suggest that the PDS, the dominant force in eastern Berlin, could win 21 percent of the overall vote, putting it just behind the SPD's 28 percent. The CDU, the top vote-getter in the 1999 elections, has slid to around 26 percent.
The Greens have hovered around 11 percent. The Free Democratic Party (FDP), Germany's leading pro-market party, looks set to hit about 9 percent.
Klaus Wowereit, the Social Democrat who heads the interim government, said he would form a coalition with the PDS, even though it would open his party up to conservative charges that he is willing to work with a party that still refuses to apologize for the crimes of the East German regime.
"The city needs a stable government in order to meet the challenges Berlin is facing," Mr. Wowereit said in a recent interview.
The Free Democrats, resurgent after years of decline in Berlin, are the wild card in the elections. A strong showing by the FDP could put them in a coalition government with the Social Democrats and the Greens.
Mr. Wowereit's Social Democrats would prefer to govern only with the Greens, but the former communists have been gaining ground on the left flank of Berlin's political spectrum over the past few years.
Oezcan Mutlu, a Turkish-born Green member of the Berlin assembly, is on the front lines of the fight against the PDS. Mr. Mutlu represents Kreuzberg, a stronghold of leftist activism for a generation, that is now being targeted by the PDS.
"The PDS is mounting a major campaign in Kreuzberg," he said. "It's going to be very difficult."
Mr. Gysi symbolizes Mr. Mutlu's problems. He has for years dodged questions about how closely he worked with the Stasi, East Germany's hated secret police, even as other prominent politicians saw their careers end over the issue.


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