Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 16
11 October 1999

Austrian news review C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Austria
All the important news from Austria since
4 October 1999

Magali Perrault

The outcome and implications of the general elections on Sunday 3 October were of course the most important issue in Austria last week.

The main winner of the elections was Joerg Haider's Freedom Party (FPO), which gained 12 seats more than in 1995 and narrowly overtook the conservative People's Party (OVP) as the second political formation in the country (53 seats against 52 and 27.22 versus 26.90 percent of the votes). The great loser is undoubtedly Chancellor Viktor Klima and his Socialist Party (SPO), which, with 65 seats and 33.9 percent, lost 4.67 percent and obtained its lowest score in the history of the Austrian second republic.

Aside from these three parties, the Greens registered a good result and their 7.10 percent will allow the movement - led by Alexander Van der Bellen - to claim 13 seats in the National Assembly.

The Liberal Forum (LIF), however, failed to clear the 5 percent threshold and with only 3.41 percent lost the nine seats it held in Parliament. Heide Schmidt, the Party Chairman, has consequently announced that she will resign at the beginning of next year, after having expressed her hopes that liberalism as a political idea is not yet dead in Austria.

The elections mark the end of the bipartism SPO/OVP, which had been the main determinant of Austrian politics since the end of the Second World War, and the rise of the FPO as an integral part of the political landscape.

Voter turnout was 76.19 percent, a decrease of 9.81 percent compared to 1995.

Only about 14,000 votes separate the FPO and the OVP and the counting on 12 October of the 200,000 absentee votes (traditionally held to be favorable to the OVP) might still put the People's Party into second position. Yet, the Freedom Party has clearly announced its ambitions and its willingness to participate in the next government (a six-member negotiation team, which includes Joerg Haider and the party's official candidate for the Chancellery, Thomas Prinzhorn, has been appointed).

The FPO attained a majority in its traditional stronghold of Carinthia, where Haider is governor, and in Salzburg. It even challenged the SPO in traditionally "red" Vienna (25.26 percent - a "historic result" and an increase of 5.19 percent - as compared with 38.3 percent for the SPO, a loss of 5.66 percent).

Negotiations, which promise to be long and difficult, are now under way, and President Thomas Klestil has started consultations with Klima, Haider, Van der Bellen and Wolfgang Schuessel (head of the OVP and incumbent Foreign Minister).

The 13-year old "grand coalition" between the SPO and the OVP looks increasingly shaky, even if both Klima and Schuessel have, for the moment, excluded forming a governmental coalition with the FPO. A public opinion poll published on Friday in Der Standard shows that 32 percent of Austrians favor a OVP-FPO coalition (the so-called "schwarz-blaue Koalition"), whereas only 27 percent wish the continuation of the grand coalition (21 percent favor a SPO-FPO government and 20 percent are undecided).

A decisive determinant of the future shape of the Austrian government might paradoxically turn out to be the international community, which has reacted very strongly and negatively to Haider's success. Most notably, the Israeli Foreign Minister, David Levy, declared that Israel would interrupt its diplomatic relations with Austria, were Haider to become a member of the next government. Levy's comment as well as the "advice" of Edmund Stoiber (chairman of the CSU and Bavarian Ministerpraesident) to the OVP to form a coalition with the FPO have been widely commented upon by Austrian politicians and media.

Magali Perrault, 8 October 1999

Some Useful Websites (in German)






http://www.orf.at (Austrian TV)

http://www.apa.at (Austrian Press Agency)





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