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Berlin Chooses Social Democratic Mayor - 2001-10-21


The wall may be gone, but Berlin is still a divided city.

The city-state of Berlin has voted for a Social Democratic mayor, but voters have left him with an uncomfortable choice - should he risk a coalition with the former East German Communist Party, or go for a less controversial option?

Sunday's election gave the Social Democrats a partial victory. For the first time in decades the party will be the largest in the state legislature with 30 percent of the vote and 41 seats. And their leader, Klaus Wowereit becomes the first openly gay mayor to win power here in a democratic vote.

The big losers are the conservative Christian Democrats, ousted in the summer over the scandalous mismanagement of the city's municipal bank, which has cost taxpayers here almost $3 billion this year.

But in the eastern part of the city, once the Soviet Zone and the former capital city of Communist East Germany, voters put the Social Democrats in second place. The winner, with almost 50 percent of the votes was the Party of Democratic Socialism, or PDS. That's the successor to the former Socialist Unity Party, which ruled Communist East Germany with an iron hand until the fall of the Berlin Wall 12 years ago.

The result is that Mr. Wowereit and his present coalition partners in the ecologically minded Green party don't have an outright majority on their own. That leaves him with an awkward choice. He can bring in the free-trading economically liberal Free Democrats, who in recent years have drifted further and further right, to build a weak three-party coalition with a majority of just three votes in the legislature. Or he can establish a two party coalition with the PDS, and give him a majority of six.

The trouble is, the PDS won only 6 percent of the vote in what used to be West Berlin. The ex-Communists are still not trusted in the former British, French, and American Zones, despite their claim to have espoused democracy and human rights.

After the vote Sunday, Mr. Wowereit attributed their popularity in the East to their strong stance against the U.S.-led attacks in Afghanistan. He said he could not build a coalition in the state on the basis of foreign policy issues. But he also refused to rule out either coalition option at this stage. He said it's all going to be down to negotiations over the next few days.

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