May 18, 2017

1949. Unexpected Opposition in the East German Election

Communists Blame "Foreign Imperialism" for Election Results
Socialist Unity Party march in East Berlin, July 1952 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 15, 1949

Today we have the spectacle of what the Communists mean by what they call a "free democratic election."

Today and tomorrow the German puppet organization, the Socialist Unity Party, is staging an election throughout Soviet-occupied Germany to elect some 1,500 delegates to the People's Congress. The People's Congress will be the basis of an East German government if and when it is needed to counter the German republic we are sponsoring in the West.

This election underlines the basic difference between the East and the West when the word "democracy" arises. For here is how these elections are being conducted. The ballot leads off with this statement: "I am for the unity of Germany and a just peace treaty. Therefore I vote for the following candidates." Then follows the list of names. At the bottom of the ballot there are two circles, one for voting ja and the other for voting nein.

In the eyes of the Communists this is a perfectly fair and free election, and you can bet your boots that Mr. Vyshinsky will so argue at the council of foreign ministers in Paris next week if the question comes up.

However, how much the politically sophisticated German will be fooled by this election is another question. Hitler used the same method in extorting mandates from the people for his government. What is happening today is that the Communists have selected only candidates who support their policy—who can be bought—or who are tame Germans.

Although the candidates claim membership in other parties—Socialists, Christian Democratic, and the rest—the dictatorship of the Socialist Unity front organization makes this a one-party election as complete as the one-party dictatorial system used by the Nazis and now employed by the Soviets.

The other trick is in the wording of the ballot—every German is for the unity of his country and for a just peace treaty. As a matter of fact, so are all the occupation powers.

I can give you the result of this election right now. It will be an overwhelming ja. The figures, when released, won't matter. There will be no way of checking them anyway.

But what I wonder is just who the Communists think they're fooling.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 17, 1949

Something appears to have gone wrong with the great elections in Soviet-occupied Germany, and reports and rumors are circulating throughout Berlin today that the great Communist plebiscite laid an egg.

As the Germans of the Soviet zone and of East Berlin went to the polls, all the stops were out on the Communist propaganda machine. The purpose of the election was to select some 1,500 delegates to a People's Congress. But the voters also were told they were voting for peace and unity of Germany. They had no chance to vote for candidates—only ja or nein for the Communist slate.

And the story circulating today is that an embarrassing number of Germans—embarrassing to the Communists, that is—voted nein.

That is the reason, it is said, that no results have been announced, although it has been eighteen hours since the polls closed last night.

The only figures thus far released by the Communist press are that between seventy and eighty percent of the eligible voters cast their ballots. Investigators for the British and American licensed press in Berlin confirm the big turnout, but they give these results:

In four polling places in northeast Berlin, one thousand persons voted yes. 1,167 voted no. In Potsdam, where the Soviet military governor has his residence, one precinct had 317 votes following the Communist party line, but 332 voted no.

If these stories are true, then the Communist policy has taken a severe licking in what was supposed to be a setup of an election.

Tägliche Rundschau, the Red Army newspaper, hinted at the unexpected opposition at the polls in its leading editorial this morning.

"There is no doubt," the newspaper says, "that there are not a few people of undemocratic mind who are under the influence of the false propaganda of the enemies of unity. They voted against the People's Congress because the idea of the formation of a national front is so new."

The Rundschau labels all those who voted nein as agents of "foreign imperialism."

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.