What are free elections

Background current

30 years ago, the citizens of the GDR were able to freely elect their parliament for the first time. The result of the Volkskammer election was groundbreaking for the course of German reunification.

In February 1990 different parties compete with posters in Dresden Pillnitz for the favor of the voters in the first and last free Volkskammer elections on March 18, 1990. (& copy picture alliance / ZB)

The elections to the Volkskammer, the parliament of the German Democratic Republic, on March 18, 1990 were memorable in several ways. For the first time in the history of the state, citizens were free to vote on their representatives. The ballot box with a turnout of 93.4 percent was also supposed to be the last before the dissolution of the GDR.

A surprising election victory

Hardly anyone had expected the election result: surveys had suggested that the 12.4 million eligible voters in the GDR would make the SPD the strongest parliamentary force. But it turned out differently: with 48.1 percent of the vote, the conservative "Alliance for Germany" won the election. Just shortly before, on February 5, the East German CDU, the Democratic Awakening (DA) and the German Social Union (DSU) formed this alliance with the support of CDU / CSU from West Germany. The "Alliance" advocated a quick path to German reunification and campaigned for votes with the slogan "Freedom and Prosperity - Never Again Socialism".

In the polling station of the Juri-Gagarin-POS (Polytechnische Oberschule) the ballot papers for the Volkskammer election are counted on March 18, 1990. (& copy picture-alliance / ZB)
The Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), as the state party SED now called itself, received 16.4 percent and became the third largest group behind the Social Democrats with 21.9 percent. The "Bund Free Democrats" alliance, supported by the FDP from West Germany, received 5.3 percent of the vote.

Support from the west

The "Initiative for Peace and Human Rights", the "New Forum" and "Democracy Now" - all groups from the citizens' movement oriented towards grassroots democracy and were among the most important promoters of the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR had also joined forces. But their "Alliance 90" only reached 2.9 percent. One reason for this was the lack of partisan organizational structures and a lack of financial support from the West; the East German partners of the CDU and CSU had received campaign aid of 4.5 million DM, those of the SPD and FDP about 1.5 million each.

In addition, many members of the citizens' movement envisaged a self-determined, grassroots socialism in the East and, if necessary, a gradual, equal merger of the two German states. But the number of supporters of a quick reunification had skyrocketed: In November 1989, a little less than half of East Germans were in favor of reunification, while in February 1990 it was already three quarters.

Official final result of the elections for
10th People's Chamber on March 18, 1990
Party / listVoices-
proportion of
Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU)40,8%163
Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)21,9%88
Democratic Socialism Party (PDS)16,4%66
German Social Union (DSU)6,3%25
League of Free Democrats
DFP-LDP-F.D.P. The liberal
Alliance 902,9%12
Democratic Peasant Party of Germany (DBD)2,2%9
Green Party + Independent Women's Association (Green Party - UFV)2,0%8
Democratic awakening - social + ecological (DA)0,9%4
National Democratic Party of Germany (NDPD)0,4%2
Democratic Women's Federation of Germany (DFD)0,3%1
Action Alliance United Left (AVL)
The Carnations - VL
Source: Electoral Commission of the GDR

Attitude of the parties to German unity

Programmatically, nobody responded to the desire for reunification as much as the "Alliance for Germany". Like the FDP, the CDU made a late decision to work with the sister parties in the East because they had worked together as block parties with the SED for decades and supported its monopoly of power in the one-party state of the GDR. But in the face of a 54 percent landslide victory for the SPD, which was forecast at the beginning of February, Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl supported the establishment of the "Alliance for Germany" on February 5. A day later he promised a rapid economic and monetary union and was received by 100,000 people on February 20 at an election rally in Erfurt; in Leipzig, when a little later he promised to exchange the West and East Marks at a rate of 1: 1, the figure was as high as 300,000.

In contrast to Kohl's proposals, SPD leader Hans-Jochen Vogel had insisted in the Bundestag in mid-February on a "step-by-step establishment of unity in the various specific areas of life" in the run-up to a state unification. He called for a cautious process that would limit the social follow-up costs and allow the citizens of a politically and economically stabilized GDR to participate equally in the unification process. The PDS called for a confederation of states.

The majority of the GDR citizens gave their votes to the conservative alliance. On April 12, 1990, the newly formed People's Chamber elected Lothar de Maizière, the CDU's top candidate for the "Alliance for Germany", as Prime Minister. He formed a grand coalition of CDU, DSU, DA, SPD and liberals.

The way to unity

The election result played a key role in accelerating the unification process. At the end of April, the introduction of the economic, monetary and social union on July 1, 1990 was agreed with the Federal Government, and at the end of August the "Treaty on the Establishment of Germany's Unity" followed. On the basis of this unification treaty, the five states of the GDR joined the Federal Republic of Germany on October 3, 1990 and came under the scope of the Basic Law.

The writer Stefan Heym had already aptly commented on developments after the election on the evening of March 18, 1990: "There will be no more GDR. It will be nothing but a footnote in world history". With the "Day of German Unity" on October 3, 1990, the GDR ceased to exist after almost 41 years.

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