Compass World: Austrian Elections 101
Today, voters in Austria will get the opportunity to make their voices heard by electing the next legislature. Read below for what you need to know, courtesy of Compass World.
The election posters are everywhere in Austria, from the far-right Austrian Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) dire warning that a Greens government threatens voters’ futures to the center-left Austrian Social Democratic Party’s (SPÖ) plea that “humanity wins when you vote for us.” On September 29, Austrians head to the polls to elect a new Parliament, yet the composition of the governing coalition is unlikely to change. Former-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’ center-right ÖVP leads in the polls, and the FPÖ appears largely undamaged from the Ibiza Scandal, which brought down the two parties’ previous coalition government in May.
The Ibiza Scandal involved the then-head of the FPÖ, Heinz-Christian Strache (pictured), who was recorded shortly before the 2017 parliamentary elections meeting with the purported niece of a Russian oligarch in a villa in Ibiza. The woman discussed taking control of the Kronen Zeitung, Austria’s largest tabloid, and in return for her providing campaign support to the FPÖ, Strache was to steer government contracts to her. When the video surfaced nearly two years later in May 2019, Kurz demanded Strache and other FPÖ ministers resign—bringing down his own government. In the four months since the government’s collapse, a nonpartisan technocratic government has led the country.
The following polling numbers are according to a September 26 poll from Research Affairs published in Merkur.
ÖVP – 33 percent – The center-right party is swinging further to the right on immigration in the face of the FPO’s rising power over the last decade.
FPÖ – 21 percent – The far-right party is dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism and ties to neo-Nazis and, in 2000, became the first far-right party to enter government in Europe since World War II.
SPÖ – 23 percent – The center-left party has ruled Austria in a grand coalition with the ÖVP off-and-on for over 40 years since 1945.
Greens – 11 percent – After a series of scandals and poor campaigning before the 2017 parliamentary election, the Greens failed to make it into Parliament. They are hoping to ride a growing wave of environmental awareness in Europe—exemplified by the success of the Fridays For Future protest movement—back into Parliament.
Neos – 8 percent – The liberal party was only founded in 2012 and straddles the political center with moderate policy positions.
Return to the ÖVP-FPÖ Coalition: The relationship between the two parties was already strained before the Ibiza Scandal destroyed the government, yet the FPÖ remains open to joining the ÖVP in government again. Whether the ÖVP agrees may depend on the fate of Herbert Kickl, deputy head of the party and interior minister in the previous government. His behavior in government shocked Kurz and the ÖVP. Most notably, Kickl ordered a raid on the domestic intelligence service over its investigation of the Austrian far-right.
Another Grand Coalition: Prior to the 2017 parliamentary elections, a grand coalition between the SPÖ and ÖVP ruled Austria. Kurz brought that government down when he rose to head the ÖVP and pushed it to form an alliance with the FPÖ instead. Since then, Kurz and the head of the SPÖ have feuded, and a new grand coalition would be difficult to orchestrate.
Whatever the outcome of Sunday's vote, Austria appears set to continue serving as an example for Europe on the relationship between the far-right and centrist parties. The FPÖ first entered government in 2000 and it's views have shifted political discourse in the country as the ÖVP has attempted to coopt the FPÖ. Despite the success of the Fridays for Future protest movement, Sunday's election appears set to further Austria's rightward drift.
In next week’s Compass World, we will bring you the results of Nigeria’s election. For live updates, follow our social media platforms.