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.