15 Oct 2017

Election day in Austria: a swing to the (far) right

After what seemed like one of the longest and most exhausting campaigns ever, Austria's elections are finally over. As people headed to the polls in glorious fall sunshine this past Sunday, voter turnout was guessed to have been as high as 79%.

Julia Sahlender
Julia Sahlender Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Election day in Austria: a swing to the (far) right - NewsMavens
Sebastian Kurz, Austrian foreign minister and leader of the ÖVP which secured the highest number of seats in parliament in Sunday's elections. Dragan Tatic/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Why this story matters:

After what seemed like one of the longest and most exhausting campaigns ever, Austria's elections are finally over. As people headed to the polls in glorious fall sunshine this past Sunday, voter turnout was guessed to have been as high as 79%. It appeared that a very eventful evening lay ahead.

And indeed it was.

The poll results that went round in the weeks before the election showed most people were ready for a dramatic shift to the (far) right. The conservative ÖVP with Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz at its hem was expected to win the election with a great advantage, while the most recent polls suggested far-right FPÖ would come in close second and SPÖ -- which currently governs with ÖVP -- would come in third.

As exit polls started coming in, they largely confirmed those predictions. The ÖVP secured the most seats, no surprises there. FPÖ made a comeback as the second biggest party for the first time since elections in 1999. And the social democratic SPÖ was about to get the biggest hit in their history, with a third-place result, while the Green Party, whose future was teetering in the balance appeared safe with a smidge more than the 4% of votes needed to get into parliament.

But moments later, everything was turned on its head. All of a sudden SPÖ was in second place, the FPÖ in third, and the Green Party was no longer certain it could make it over the hurdle to get into parliament.

This result is very alarming. The right-wing populists, both from the FPÖ as the ÖVP, seem to have won. While it was expected that the ÖVP would come in first place it seems clearer than ever that most Austrians think that a right-wing government is the answer to the problems in Austria.

The ÖVP veered further right as the campaign went on, which is why it is expected that the party will pair up with the FPÖ, an openly far-right grouping. Under these circumstances, the fact that the Green Party might no longer be a part of the Austrian Parliament is even more concerning. They were an important voice in the opposition against xenophobic forces and in protecting the environment and women's rights, the LGBTQ + community, foreigners and other marginalized groups.

Details from the story:

  • The two parties which currently make up the government are the SPÖ and the ÖVP. After months of disagreements and fighting they decided to hold a snap election The ÖVP has been part of the Austrian government for 30 years In 1999 the ÖVP and FPÖ decided to form a government, even though they held the second and third highest number of votes, respectively. Their decision was met with protests both within Austria and internationally, especially in the EU.
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