German regional election Far-Right Accused of Bullying Rivals in Campaign

Germany's far-right is being accused of intimidating other parties in campaigning ahead of a regional election later this month. The National Democratic Pary is projected to get enough votes to enter the parliament of the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.


The NPD is predicted to enter parliament in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
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The NPD is predicted to enter parliament in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

Germany's far right is poised to enter another of the country's regional parliaments in approaching regional elections. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the northeast of the country is holding an election on Sept. 17 and the latest opinion polls suggest that the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) could succeed in getting their candidates elected. Meanwhile the electioneering antics of the party's supporters have been causing alarm, as they carry out a campaign of intimidation against their political rivals and their supporters.

While the far-right parties, the NPD and the German People's Union (DVU), have long been politically active at a local level until recently they had failed to make the leap to state politics while nationally they can barely muster 2 percent of the popular vote.

The German constitution stipulates that a party must reach the hurdle of a minimum of five percent to get seats in federal or regional parliaments. The law is intended to keep extremists from either end of the political spectrum out of power. However, according to a recent poll, carried out by the Infratest Dimap institute, the NPD could well poll over six percent in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in less than a fortnight's time.

In fact every tenth person surveyed said they would either maybe or definitely be voting NPD. This would then be the third state in the former East Germany to elect far-right candidates to parliament. In 2004 the NPD entered Saxony's parliament after gaining over 9 percent of the vote while the same year another far-right party, the German People's Union (DVU), succeeded in attracting over six percent of voters in Brandenburg.

In the fight for an election success the NPD is reported to be using increasingly hostile tactics. In fact the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has expressed its concern at the aggressive behaviour of the NPD after many politicians reported being threatened by NPD supporters.

For example, on Aug. 18 the Social Democrat politician Margret Seemann was at her information stand in the town of Hagenow when she was surrounded by NPD supporters and threatened, she told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The right-wing radicals told her, "When it's our turn, then you socialists will disappear." She retorted that this had already been tried in 1933 and that her party was still there. Seemann said that the leading NPD candidate Udo Pastörs then appeared, surrounded by muscular bodyguards, so that no one could approach her stand. The group only left when the police arrived on the scene. Seemann also reported that last week she was approached by two young men while out shopping who made xenophobic comments and asked her how she could sleep at night.

According to left-wing German newspaper Tageszeitung this is no isolated incident. SPD and PDS/Left party politicians say it's part of the new NPD modus operandi: a strategy of confrontation and intimidation. NPD supporters are increasingly using photography as intimidation: they are taking snaps of left-wing supporters or just people who approach campaign stands to find out about their policies and spreading fear that the pictures will be circulated round the far-right scene. The PDS politician Gabi Mestan told the Tageszeitung that on Aug. 11 she was photographed repeatedly while at her information stand and this was obviously intended to frighten her. She described it as an "oppressive feeling."

While the traditional image of right-wing extremists is young men clad in the neo-Nazi garb of steel-toed boots, bomber jackets and shaven heads, the NPD in Mecklenburg-Pomerania is cultivating a more respectable image, aiming to represent itself as being part of the fabric of society and getting involved in various citizens' initiatives. In fact the state prime minister Harald Ringstorff (SPD) has described the party as a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

However, despite this new image, a 69-year-old member of the PDS said he was beaten up by five NPD supporters after he tried to prevent them from hanging one of their election posters outside his house in the eastern town of Piche last month. The NPD said its members were acting in self-defence.

smd/spiegel/tageszeitung/diewelt

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