Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann wants to preserve the centrist, pro-European coalition his Social Democrats (SPO) lead with the conservative People's Party (OVP) should his party win parliamentary elections next week, he told a Sunday newspaper.
But late gains by two small parties threaten to block a new version of the "grand coalition" of the two big blocs that have dominated post-war politics, opinion polls showed ahead of next Sunday's vote in the Alpine republic.
Despite clashes with his conservative partners over taxes, education policy and whether to extend special levies on banks, Faymann said he would opt for another five-year term with the OVP should the SPO win, as expected.
"If I am first and get the governing mandate I will turn to the OVP to form a grand coalition," he told Österreich paper. He urged voters not to leave the door open to a centre-right alliance, which could happen should the OVP emerge victorious and partner with one or more right-wing parties.
Conservative leader Michael Spindelegger has declined to rule out such an alternative coalition, saying all options are open while voters have their say.
But he has also said he could not lead a government with eurosceptic partners such as the far-right Freedom Party that call for breaking up the single euro currency.
The latest opinion polls show the SPO comfortably ahead with around 27% support, followed by the OVP at about 23 and Freedom on around 20%.
The two big parties could probably form another coalition even if they get just under half the vote because the Austrian election system requires parties to get at least 4 percent to enter parliament. Parties that fall short have their votes assigned to those that make it into the 183-seat assembly.
The latest polls show the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO) – founded by the late Joerg Haider when the Freedom Party split up eight years ago – and the new Neos liberal party are near the 4% hurdle.
"If both small parties make it into parliament then there is a large probability of a three-way coalition," Wolfgang Bachmayer, the head of pollster OGM, told the Kurier paper.
Analysts say the environmentalist Greens, an opposition party that has sided with the coalition on European issues such as creating the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund, was the most likely option should the big two need a partner to rule.
"If one of the small parties just misses 4 percent then we will most likely have another grand coalition, even if it is a shrunken one," Bachmayer said.
Around a tenth of the electorate is still completely undecided about who to support, OGM found.