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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For German Opposition, a Risky Left Turn

BONN -- A sudden left turn by opposition Social Democrats in Germany's election campaign risks backfiring badly, alienating moderate voters and establishing reform communists as serious competitors in east Germany. Social Democrat moderates and editorial writers have been warning the party against any experiments since it decided last week to form a shaky minority government with the Greens and tacit communist support in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats have been having a field day denouncing the Social Democrats as "traitors" for making the reform communist Party of Democratic Socialism part of its strategy to win power in the state. After days of speculation about his intentions, Social Democrat leader Rudolf Scharping had to issue a statement Monday saying he would prefer not to become chancellor after the Oct. 16 general election if it meant he had to form a government in Bonn with tacit Democratic Socialist support. A senior Christian Democrat strategist said that Scharping, who has tried to imitate U.S. President Bill Clinton's successful "jobs, jobs, jobs" campaign in 1992, was now getting enmeshed in too many errors to pull off his challenge successfully . "Scharping started off as Clinton and he'll end up as Dukakis," said the strategist, referring to Michael Dukakis, the U.S. Democrats' failed candidate against George Bush in 1988. A senior opinion pollster said the Social Democrats were wrong, when the economy was on the rise, to base their campaign on the idea that Germans were afraid of losing their jobs and were ready to vote for a change of government. "The Social Democrats are fighting the Christian Democrats of 1993 with the arguments of 1993," he remarked. "That strategy may have worked last year but this is 1994 and things are different." Scharping, who is trailing Kohl in opinion polls after setbacks in local elections and badly needs to give his faltering campaign a second wind, made clear Monday that the Social Democrats planned to go ahead with their minority government in Saxony-Anhalt. Saxony's Social Democrat leader Reinhard H?ppner says he will not cooperate directly with the Democratic Socialists, which came third in the vote, but would speak with the party's deputies individually and accept their support on an issue-by-issue basis. This plan may be acceptable in eastern Germany, where Democratic Socialist deputies have often turned out to be the most active in championing local causes against Bonn, but it enjoys much less sympathy in the larger and more influential western Germany. While 68 percent of eastern Germans believe the Democratic Socialists are a democratic party, only 22 percent in western Germany see the successors to the party that ruled East Germany with an iron fist for 40 years as democrats, an Infas group survey said. Even conservative Social Democrats oppose the party's shift. Klaus von Dohnanyi, a former mayor of Hamburg and veteran Social Democratic moderate, called the idea of working with the Democratic Socialists or the Greens "very dramatic and very problematic." "The Greens and the Democratic Socialists have no idea how the international economy works," he told German Radio. "Whoever thinks he can govern in a coalition with or with the tacit support of these two parties will ruin Germany." The Christian Democrat strategist said the Social Democrats had broken a taboo in west Germany by considering any form of cooperation with the Democratic Socialists and would lose many of the undecided moderate voters that Scharping had been assiduously wooing until last week. "This will be a disaster for him in the west," he said, arguing that western taxpayers would resent paying so much for east German reconstruction programs if former communists were allowed to have a say in how the money is spent.