Elections in Austria: Yuck

Short version: for the last two years, Austria has been run by a “grand coalition” government of the two largest parties, the Social Democrats and the center-right People’s Party. Everybody hated this arrangement, though, and it didn’t get much done. So they called new elections, which were held yesterday.

Result: both large parties got hammered badly. The Social Democrats seem to have dropped from about 36% to 30%, and the People’s Party from 35% to 26%. (Ironically, it was the People’s Party that pulled the plug on the coalition last month.)

The big winners? Austria’s two creepy nationalist-populist-nativist-immigrant hating parties, the Freedom Party and the Alliance for the Future of Austria. The Freedom Party jumped from 11 to 18 percent of the vote, while the Alliance went from about 4 to 11. Together, they’re now about as big as either of the two traditional large parties.

At this point I should probably discuss how these two parties differ, and how one is more populist and the other more nationalist, and which is creepier, and all. But this would involve talking about Joerg Haider, which I just don’t feel like doing today. Sorry. Suffice it to say that they’re both fairly squicky, and the fact that nearly 30% of Austria’s electorate voted for them is just depressing. Yeah, yeah, economic anxiety populism anger at the ruling coalition blah blah blah. And it’s not that big an increase from the Freedom Party’s equally depressing showing in 1999, when they got about 27% of the vote. Nevertheless.

The Greens also squeaked in with their usual 9% or so.

Now, the Social Democrats have said they won’t go into coalition with either of these parties. So Austria’s crappy, ineffective grand coalition is about to be replaced by…

1) The same crappy, ineffective grand coalition, except with fewer votes and less legitimacy; or,

2) A coalition of the People’s Party and either both the obnoxious parties, or the Freedom Party and the Greens. This would be rather strange, if only because a party that’s been so firmly rejected doesn’t usually come back to form the next government. But then, the People’s Party was in coalition with the Freedom Party for several years after 1999. Some readers may remember that most EU nations refused to have any dealings with that government for, oh, six months or so. That worked out real well, not.

Either of these would kinda suck. (1) gives a weak coalition government that pretty much starts out discredited. (2) is 1999 all over again, with the rest of Europe squirming uncomfortably and avoiding eye contact while Haider and friends slap on another layer of pancake makeup — see, we’re legitimate and honorable nationalists! Also, whether it’s People’s Party/Freedom Party/Future or People’s/Freedom/Greens, this coalition would suffer from the fact that the two smaller members loathe each other — for personal reasons in the first case, ideological ones in the second.

At the moment it’s looking like (2) is the way to bet, but we’ll see.

9 thoughts on “Elections in Austria: Yuck

  1. It’s worth pointing out that the (Strache) FPO and the (Haider) BZO are still in some ways the same entity. Haider built the BZO, which doesn’t really have any members, on the Carinthian regional FPO which is a judicially separate entity from the national FPO but still a member of it, largely in order to avoid paying the party’s campaign debts.

  2. Yeah. As I said, though, once you get into it you have to start talking about Haider, and I’m just not in the mood.

    One other detail: this was the first national election in Europe that allowed 16 and 17 year olds to vote. No data on how they voted yet, though.

    Doug M.

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  4. This Falter article offers some insight–the FPO did extremely well among under 30s.

    http://www.falter.at/web/print/detail.php?id=781

    It will be interesting to see if other European parties can imitate their success. Obviously the EU issue is what got the nationalists so much traction–obviously Austria is special in this regard but I wonder if we’ll see more protectionist/nationalist sympathies as the economy implodes.

    It looks like a red-black coalition–the FPO may actually prefer this as the last time they got into the federal government their performance at the polls went down.

    I was hopeful for Austrian left parties after the near red-green success in 2006–but it seems like the nationalists have a very strong base of support, which they obviously brought out on Sunday. The SPD and the Greens will have to step up their game especially among the youth.

  5. What *is* the sodding EU issue in Austria, anyway? “Please, save us from this national nightmare of peace and prosperity!”

  6. The young generation of Europe is facing the double burden of paying for the old and increased international competition.

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  8. I think Austrian parties are so well rooted in society that FPÖ and BZÖ are very hard to characterize. Austria has the highest rate of partisan involvement of citizens, and many FPÖ members are still pro-business liberals or the people Haider brought in, etc. In fact, there is very little change in Austrian politics, the same people have been around in FPÖ, the Greens and the other smaller parties. These parties have been in opposition, in regional government, except for the Greens in national government, but Austria remained very much the same.

    Although there may be a real political crisis, it is very difficult to see what is wrong all in all with this peaceful and super rich country.

  9. I should probably be more worried about this, but having lived through the 90s version, it seems like just another go-round. The three main groups (SPÖ, ÖVP, FPÖ) seem to generally take a third or less of the vote, and no more, and none of them have been able to take a clear majority for a long time. As stated in an earlier comment, it’s true that the FPÖ works better in opposition, and loses cred and votes when they are in charge. There’s a lot of “send the other guys a message” in the voting here.

    The US extreme right wing has Mexican beheadings and UN helicopters; the Austrian version has the country going Muslim and taking orders from Brussels. It’s pretty much the same method.

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