Austrian far-right parties double power

Social Democrats secure most votes in Austrian elections, but rightist parties get 29% of vote.

By
September 28, 2008 20:10
2 minute read.
Austrian far-right parties double power

freedom party supporter 224.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Austria's far-right parties made huge gains in Sunday's parliamentary elections, according to preliminary results, while the Social Democrats took the most votes but saw their worst results in decades. Interior Minister Maria Fekter said the center-left Social Democrats had 29.71 percent of the vote, followed by the conservative People's Party with 25.61 percent. The two parties had been part of a so-called grand coalition that fell apart in July, triggering the early election. The elections biggest winners were the far-right parties, whose performance together was close to the count for the Social Democrats. The Freedom Party received 18.01 percent of the vote, while the Alliance for the Future of Austria had 10.98 percent, preliminary results indicated. The right-wing parties had not been expected to consider joining forces, given a past of frequent squabbling. However, Alliance leader Joerg Haider said Sunday it is something worth thinking about. And Freedom Party chief Heinz-Christian Strache suggested he was interested in becoming chancellor. The Greens also likely secured a spot in parliament, winning 9.79 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results that did not yet include absentee ballots or those turned in at polling stations outside the voter's home district. A final tally is not expected before October 6. Some 4.5 million voters turned out Sunday, out of 6.3 million eligible to vote, however 96,300 ballots were thrown out as invalid, the interior minister said. The voters included 16- and 17-year-olds, after a new law lowered the minimum voting age. However it was too early to tell if those votes made a marked difference in the results, said Christoph Hofinger of the SORA Institute for Social Research and Analysis. In total, 183 seats in parliament were up for grabs. The Right's resurgence had been predicted by analysts, but they said it would not necessarily mean Austrians were becoming more extremist in their views. Instead, they said, voters were likely disenchanted with the governing coalition parties. "We don't have more right-oriented voters than in 2006, when they gained 15 percent together," political commentator Peter Filzmaier said in an pre-election interview. "It's because of a negative mood of frustration, of political mistrust of the grand coalition." With no party winning an outright majority, a coalition will need to be formed. Social Democrat leader Werner Faymann has rejected the possibility of joining forces with either right-wing party. After Sunday's vote, he thanked supporters and pledged to do all he could to regain the confidence of those Social Democrats who did not vote for the party this time around. Wilhelm Molterer, head of the People's Party, described the steep loss of his party as "very painful" and "very dramatic." In 1999 elections, the Freedom Party - then headed by Joerg Haider - achieved 27 percent of the votes and was included in the government, leading to months of European Union sanctions.

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