Daily Management Review

Elections in Austria tilted the country to the right


The last parliamentary elections in the European Union in 2017 took place: on October 15, the Austrians voted for candidates to the National Council - the lower house of parliament. Following the voting results, the country will form a new government.

Sebastian Kurz, Gespräche der International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in Wien
Sebastian Kurz, Gespräche der International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in Wien
The winners were conservatives from the Austrian People's Party (APP). They scored, according to preliminary calculations, 31.6 percent of the vote. The party’s leader is 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz; if he manages to form a ruling coalition, he will become the youngest country leader in the EU.

The Social Democratic Party of Austria (SDPA), headed by acting Chancellor Christian Kern, together with the Conservatives, showed the second best result - 26.9 percent. This means that Austria is about to change the power. The third are right-wing populists from the Austrian Freedom Party (AFP), which has got 26 percent of the vote. However, outcome of the fight for the second place will be decided only after counting all the ballots, including those sent by mail. Correlations may still be up to two percentage points. The new parliament will also include liberals (5.1 percent) and the Peter Pilz List, a breakaway from the Green Party.

The current election campaign is likely to go down in history as the dirtiest in Austria's post-war history. The main scandal was that the political technologist from Israel Tal Silberstein, who previously worked, for example, with Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko, on behalf of the Social Democrats created Facebook communities that defamed Kurz's rival. When this fact came to light, the Social Democrats blamed the conservatives for spying on them and obtaining information about creating communities in the social network through illegal means.

Another feature of the pre-election race in Austria is the extremely important role of television. Each candidate made about 50 speeches on local TV channels.

The scandals, however, did not scare voters away: almost 80 percent took advantage of the right to vote, ensuring a high degree of the vote’s legitimacy. Austrian elections drew attention of a record number of journalists: over 900 foreign reporters worked on the election day in Vienna only, according to official data.

There is still an opportunity for the creation of three coalition governments. Prior to the vote, it was believed that the conservative alliance under the leadership of Kurz and right-wing populists from the AFP, led by the 48-year-old Heinz-Christian Strache, had the greatest chance.

In this sense, the elections’ results have not changed anything, but observers are increasingly pointing out that Kurz's victory does not yet guarantee him the post of chancellor. Many refer to the experience of 1999. Then, the same conservatives from the APP received only the third result, but they bypassed the victorious Social Democrats and formed a coalition with the AFP.

Yet, observers are unanimous that the key role is played by right-wing populists, for which their party is called the power behind the throne of the elections. The mandates recruited by them and the Social Democrats are also sufficient to create a coalition. The political programs of the two parties converge on many points, for example, with regard to economic and educational policies.

Theoretically, the Conservatives and the Social Democrats could unite again in the so-called large coalition. But relations between the parties have deteriorated, which was one of the reasons why the parliamentary elections had to be held not in 2018, but ahead of schedule, in October 2017.

The first results of the vote forced journalists and observers to speak about the right bank of Austria, which reflected the fears about Islamization and the influx of foreigners. In this sense, the outcome of the vote continued the trend that was emerging in France, where Marin Le Pene from the "National Front" came second in the presidential elections, and in Germany, where the representatives of the Alternative for Germany party for the first time ever entered the Bundestag.

If APP and ФАЗ form a coalition, Austria will be expected to have a more stringent policy towards migrants and, probably, more tensions with the European Union. Austria is not the largest EU country, but the voice of its new government can be decisive in many issues.

source: dw.de