Populists Gain Ground Austrian Voters Shift to the Right

Austrians voted on Sunday to re-elect their current coalition government. But the country's two largest parties saw their worst nationwide election results since World War II while the right-wing populists made substantial gains.


Austria's governing parties were voted back into office in national elections on Sunday, despite losses and an unmistakable shift to the right in the country.

Preliminary official results show Chancellor Werner Faymann's center-left Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) as the strongest in parliament, with 27.1 percent of votes. Its coalition partner, the center-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) scored 23.8 percent of the vote.

The right-wing populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) has once again secured its slot as the third biggest party in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with 21.4 percent of the vote. The party also registered a 3.9 percent increase in votes compared to 2008 elections. The Green Party will be fourth largest, with 11.5 percent of the votes.

For the first time, Team Stronach -- a euroskeptic party founded by outspoken billionaire Frank Stronach -- will enter into parliament, with 5.8 percent of total votes. With 4.8 percent, the newly founded business-friendly NEOS also cleared the 4 percent hurdle for entering the Austrian parliament.

By securing seats in parliament, the right-wing populists have emerged as the big winners in the Austrian vote, particularly the FPÖ under party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. The FPÖ set the tone for the right-wing camp with its anti-foreigner sentiment. The camp also includes the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and to some extent Team Stronach. Altogether, these parties secured more than 30 percent of all votes.

The SPÖ and the ÖVP, which traditionally govern together in a "grand coalition," each lost 2.2 percentage points, leading to the worst results for both parties since World War II. Back in the 1970s, the two mainstream parties were still able to capture 93 percent of the votes. But countless corruption scandals have eroded public support for both parties.

Two New Parties Enter Parliament

Still, with close to 52 percent of all votes, the parties maintain a narrow, seven-seat majority that will enable them to form a government in the National Assembly.

This marks the first time that the newly founded Team Stronach and NEOS parties will be represented in national parliament. Team Stronach is already part of government coalitions in three Austrian states. During the campaign, Stronach posed shirtless in photos to show that, at the advanced age of 81, he is still in good shape. And at the beginning of September, he told the Vorarlberger Nachrichten newspaper that he wanted to reintroduce the death penalty, which Austria eliminated in 1950, for contract killers. The proposal immediately outraged members of other political parties.

With its 3.6 percent of votes, the BZÖ -- the party founded by Jörg Haider after he split from the further-right FPÖ -- failed to secure enough votes to remain in parliament. During the 2008 election, the party managed to garner 10.7 percent of votes.

The current government in Austria has been in office for five years, the country's standard term. Even prior to the election, Chancellor Faymann had said he would like to continue governing with the conservative ÖVP. Polls taken prior to the election indicated the race would be a close one.

dsl -- with wires


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