Former Communists Meet Cool Response From Leftists in West

WERE it not for a change in election law, East Germany's former Communist Party would have no chance this Sunday. But because of a decision by the German Constitutional Court, the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) is likely to win a place in the Bundestag, or parliament. The new law makes a one-time separation of Germany into two electoral areas, so that a party in former East Germany only needs to capture 5 percent of the vote there, rather than nationwide, to clear the Bundestag entry hurdle. The court wanted to give parties unique to eastern Germany a fighting chance.

Most political analysts say that after their four years in the Bundestag are up, the PDS will be out of national politics.

Clearly, the party is sliding downhill. A scandal broke last month, when two PDS officials were arrested on charges of hiding 107 million marks ($72 million) in party assets in foreign bank accounts from government officials.

Meanwhile, in state elections in eastern Germany on Oct. 14, the PDS won only 11.6 percent of the vote, down from 16 percent in March. Membership has dropped from 2.3 million in pre-revolution days to 345,000. PDS followers tend to be either young ideologues or pensioners. Hanno Harnisch, PDS spokesman, says 67 percent of the membership is more than 50 years old.

Rather than give up, the PDS is trying to build support in western Germany with the help of leftists there.

The PDS will likely be isolated from other left-of-center parties in parliament. Wolfgang Thierse, former chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD) in East Germany, accuses the PDS of ``stealing the SPD program.'' Even the Greens refuse official partnership.

And the PDS probably won't have enough representatives to qualify as a Bundestag faction. This effects everything from speaking rights to party funds to representation on committees. Leader Gregor Gysi, an attorney, is fighting this status.

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