EAST BERLIN, AUG. 8 -- A deeply divided East German parliament appealed tonight to West Germany to take over the country in October -- seven weeks earlier than planned -- because East Germany cannot stop its economy from slipping into chaos.
After more than 10 hours of debate, shouted insults and a walkout by the opposition, the East German Volkskammer voted 187 to 148 to unite with West Germany on Oct. 14 and to ask Bonn to change its constitution to allow the first all-German elections since World War II to be held the same day.
The vote was a victory for the ruling Christian Democrats, whose leaders in both Germanys last week proposed the accelerated unification plan.
But East German Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere's win tonight may have cost him his most important partner in his fragile, five-party coalition, the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats voted against de Maiziere's proposal and earlier walked out of the session after a Christian Democratic leader called them "incompetent."
The West German Social Democrats hope to scuttle the Oct. 14 election proposal Thursday, when the Bonn parliament meets in special session. Chancellor Helmut Kohl needs a two-thirds majority to change the constitution and allow elections to be held in October rather than on Dec. 2 as previously scheduled. The Social Democrats have pledged to deny Kohl that majority.
Only the East German parliament can decide when to dissolve itself, triggering unification, and that decision does not require approval by the West German legislature. But only the West German legislature can choose a date for elections that will create an all-German parliament.
The week-long political battle over the date of the first all-German election since before the Nazis came to power has generated disappointment and outright disgust in both Germanys. In editorials, opinion polls and casual conversations, Germans have denounced their leaders as cynical politicians who are playing with the unification process in search of electoral advantage.
"We politicians have not cut a good figure in the quarrel over this question," said Richard Schroeder, leader of the East German Social Democratic parliamentary group.
Although the battle over the election dates has been petty, the genesis of the debate is a difficult economic situation that is worsening daily. Nearly 1 million of East Germany's 9 million workers either are out of work or expect to be laid off shortly. Businesses are closing, unable to compete with West German competitors.
Early in the day, the East German Social Democrats appeared to have maneuvered de Maiziere into a compromise under which the date for unification would be advanced, while the all-German elections would still take place in December.
But the compromise dissolved during heated debate, and the Social Democrats could not win support for their alternative plan, under which the Germanys would unite on Sept. 15 with elections three months later.
Kohl and de Maiziere said last week that early unity is the only way to halt the rapid and dangerous decline of East Germany's industries.
The Social Democrats agree that early unity is necessary to give Western investors confidence that they will not lose money spent on new ventures in East Germany. But party leaders contend that the economic crisis does not justify holding early elections. They say Kohl is using the precarious financial situation to improve his reelection chances.
Kohl and de Maiziere argue that if elections are not held at the same time as unification, the East Germans, in effect, will be governed by the West, without parliamentary representation.
But opposition leaders tonight dismissed that argument as a campaign tactic. "What is being done here tonight has nothing whatever to do with democracy," said Gregor Gysi, chairman of the former communist party, now known as the Party of Democratic Socialism.