After months of political turmoil, Austrian voters on Sunday (29 September) gave former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz a clear mandate to reclaim power with 37.1% of the votes while Kurz’s former coalition partner, the far-right FPÖ, lost by a wide margin. EURACTIV Germany reports.
The results of Austria’s snap legislative elections, held on Sunday (29 September), are in.
They put Sebastian Kurz’s conservative candidate and former chancellor of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) back on track to reclaim power with 37.1% of the vote.
The social democrats and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) both trail behind, with 21.8% and 16% of votes, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Greens did surprisingly well. With a score of 14%, they won close to ten percentage points more than during the previous elections, meaning they could well be part of the new coalition.
For the FPÖ, things have spiralled downwards since two of its members were featured in the now infamous Ibiza video, published in May by German newspapers Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel.
The Ibiza-gate shook the country’s political system. It featured FPÖ leader and former vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache proposing public contracts to the supposed niece of a Russian oligarch during private discussions in a villa on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza.
The coalition government between the ÖVP and FPÖ broke up soon after the video was published, following a vote of no confidence held on 28 May in the Austrian parliament. This forced Sebastian Kurz and his allies to resign from office, prompting the early elections that took place on Sunday (29 September).
Soon after Kurz’s dismissal, it became clear that the young chancellor would bring the ÖVP back into first place. Speculation hence centered around who would come second. Could the FPÖ come in second despite the scandal? To what extent could the clumsy communication of SPÖ boss Pamela Rendi-Wagner harm her party? Would the Greens be able to celebrate their comeback as expected?
- In the end, the conservative ÖVP gained an additional 5.7%, obtaining a total of 37.1%.
- The socialist SPÖ came in second with 21.2%.
- The far-right party FPÖ lost in nearly all federal municipalities, and lost nationwide by 9.9% margin, obtaining a total of 16%.
- The Greens, who got 14% of the votes, saw a 10.2 percentage point increase.
- The liberal party NEOS obtained 7.8%.
Now, the ball is in the court of Federal President Alexander van der Bellen, who will request a party to form a government. Traditionally, the president turns towards the party with the most votes, which is something he will also do this time.
However, unlike last time, van der Bellen announced that he wanted to get more involved in forming the government. And, as a former Green politician, he wants to focus on climate protection.
The Greens benefited significantly from the hype on climate protection. The party obtained 14% of the votes, which is a record for the party in legislative elections. Already in the European elections in May, they were able to obtain more than 14% of the votes.
This means that, merely on the basis of figures, the ÖVP and the Greens could form a stable coalition between themselves. And the head of the Greens, Werner Kogler, is quite prepared to strike such an alliance.
However, this would also imply radical change from what the previous government has done in the past two years. The Austrian Greens are calling for a U-turn on climate protection, fighting corruption and child poverty.
In the province of Tyrol, such a governmental constellation has been in place since 2013. Now it is time to see whether it will be possible to agree on a common line with the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) at the national level.
But first, the Greens need to rebuild, particularly after the party lost all its parliamentary seats in 2017.
Coalition with the FPÖ still possible – but unlikely
The far-right FPÖ was yesterday’s biggest loser as it was always believed the party could finish second, despite the Ibiza video scandal.
Now that the FPÖ only came in third with a score close to the Greens, the party appears to be significantly weakened.
As a reason for the losses, the far-right party mentioned another scandal that only became public last week.
FPÖ leader and former vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache is said to have spent many years living a luxurious life at the expense of the party, and now there is speculation that he will be banned from the party.
What’s clear is that today’s result is not a mandate for the FPÖ to participate in government, according to Herbert Kickl, the party’s former Interior Minister. Party leader Norbert Hofer also said that he is preparing for a new role in the opposition.
“It will be a more modern party, let yourself be surprised,” Hofer said.
The SPÖ also suffered a significant loss, of 5.1 percentage points.
Nevertheless, top candidate Pamela Rendi-Wagner has apparently focused her campaign on issues that resonated with voters, setting the party in the right direction. Shortly after the results were out, she confirmed her party would continue its path.
In the run-up to the elections, there had been speculation about what a potential election defeat could mean for Rendi-Wagner and the party’s leadership. However, it now seems like there will be no debate about who will take on the leadership, according to Vienna’s mayor, Michael Ludwig.
That would also be strategically very unwise, according to Peter Filzmeier, a prominent Austrian political scientist.
Several state elections are due next year, including in Vorarlberg, Burgenland, Styria and Vienna, in which social democrats are eager to do well, whatever it takes.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]