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Austria coalition scrapes majority; far right gains

AFP-JIJI

Austria’s two main political parties looked Monday to have little alternative but to continue their unloved “grand coalition” for another five years after just scraping together a majority in elections.

This is unless the conservatives attempt a repeat of their 2000 coalition with the third-place far right, which saw its share of the vote increase 4 percentage points.

In their worst result since 1945, the Socialist Party (SPOe) of Chancellor Werner Faymann won 27.1 percent, down from 29.3 percent in the last election in 2008, provisional official results showed.

The conservative People’s Party (OeVP), Faymann’s partners since 2008, fell to 23.8 percent from 26.0 percent, a far cry from scores comfortably over 40 percent in decades gone by.

Heinz-Christian Strache’s nationalist and Euroskeptic Freedom Party (FPOe) was very close behind at 21.4 percent, up from 17.5 percent in 2008 but short of Joerg Haider’s record 27 percent in 1999.

The results mean that the SPOe and the OeVP lost nine seats between them in parliament, leaving them with 99 MPs in the 183-seat parliament. The FPOe have 42, up eight.

Austria has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union, but voters were looking for an alternative to the two long-dominant parties, which appear to have achieved little since 2008.

They were also damaged by a number of corruption scandals.

Another “grand coalition” appeared the most likely outcome, although OeVp leader Michael Spindelegger late Sunday refused to rule out forming a government with the far right, saying, “Everything is possible.”

A tie-up between the OeVP and the Freedom Party happened once before in 2000, when the conservatives formed a government with Haider, prompting an outcry in Europe.

Strache, 44, who has campaigned on a platform of “Love Thy Neighbor” — provided the neighbor is not a foreigner — said Sunday that his party was “the winner of the night.”

The two main parties “would be well advised not just to go back to business as usual,” Strache said. “Spindelegger has the chance to break free.”

Spindelegger and Strache would, however, need a third party to obtain a majority.

The election also saw the Greens, unsullied by corruption scandals and posing as pragmatic environmentalists, increase their share of the vote to a record 11.5 percent from 10.4 percent.

Falling short of the 4 percent needed to win seats was the Alliance for Austria’s Future (BZOe), founded by Haider in 2005 when he split from the Freedom Party, three years before his death.

Elected to parliament for the first time with 5.8 percent is Team Stronach, formed last year when billionaire Frank Stronach, 81, returned from Canada vowing to shake up the country of his birth.

Another new party is the liberal New Austria (NEOS), bankrolled by an industrialist and strongly pro-European, who won 4.8 percent.