Because of an editing error, Friedrich Bohl, the West German Christian Democratic Union's parliamentary floor leader, was incorrectly identified Sunday as party leader. (Published 10/2/90)

BONN, SEPT. 29 -- West Germany's highest court today set aside rules adopted by both Germanys for the first elections after German unification, saying the procedures were unfair to small political parties.

The decision by the Federal Constitutional Court appeared to throw a life preserver to small East German parties, which played a key role in last fall's East German revolution but had seemed likely to face extinction in the unified German vote, scheduled for Dec. 2.

Although the ruling by the eight-judge panel requires passage of a new election law, parliamentary leaders expressed optimism today that the Dec. 2 balloting need not be postponed. Friedrich Bohl, leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Party, said a new plan would be introduced in Parliament, possibly as soon as Friday, with passage expected by Oct. 12.

Under rules ratified last month by the two German governments, political parties would have been required to win at least 5 percent of the vote in the united Germany to be admitted to Parliament.

The court held that any such electoral hurdle would illegally jeopardize the small East German groups, most of which have existed only for the nine months since the Communist Party gave up its political monopoly. "Many parties in what is now East Germany were formed only after the end of the dictatorship, which creates unequal election conditions," the judicial panel said.

The court directed the Bonn government to come up with a new election plan that would allow East German parties to win parliamentary seats by getting 5 percent of the vote in what was formerly East Germany rather than throughout the unified country. Under the ruling, West German parties could qualify by obtaining 5 percent in what is now West Germany.

The election rules had been challenged by leftist and rightist parties from both Germanys. They contended that the regulations were designed to perpetuate rule by mainstream parties and to eliminate both the East German Communist Party and grass-roots groups that had led the anti-Communist revolution.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Party and the main Bonn opposition party, the Social Democrats, had argued that the 5 percent threshold was intended to prevent extremist groups from splintering the government.

The court also threw out a clause in the election treaty that would have allowed large West German parties to form alliances with smaller parties. Kohl's Christian Democrats had pushed for that clause because the chancellor's coalition includes small conservative parties in Bavaria and southern East Germany.

The groups that challenged the election rules were the ecologically oriented Greens movement, which was expected to meet the 5 percent hurdle in the West but appears to have little support in the East; the East German Communist Party, which has sizable support in the East but little hope of winning 5 percent nationwide, and the far-right West German Republicans, which until a few weeks ago had been banned in East Germany. With separate 5 percent thresholds in East and West, the Communists, Greens and grass-roots groups would likely win places in an all-German legislature.

The two largest West German parties had agreed to the rules after a bitter battle. The compromise would have given the Christian Democrats a chance to widen their coalition to include East Germany's conservative German Social Union. And the 5 percent hurdle would have allowed the Social Democrats to prevent challenges from East German Communist and socialist parties, thereby ensuring the Bonn party's position as the main faction on the left.