Sunday, September 23, 2018

Austria’s far-right is on course to take a place in the country’s government after a strong showing in Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

The country’s main conservative party, led by current foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, topped the poll with over 30 per cent of the vote, but is expected to seek a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which is posting one of its strongest showing on record.

Austrian politics appears to have shifted strongly to the right, with early projections showing the conservative OVP up nearly eight per cent and the far-right FPO up around five per cent.

The Social Democrats (SPO), which has also not ruled out an alliance with the far-right, seems to have narrowly clinched second place with around 27 per cent of the vote – narrowly ahead of the far-right. The FPO is likely to be a kingmaker in the election, choosing between the two first and second placed parties.

Despite coming second, the SPO’s result seems to have been its worst since the Second World War.

According to projections the Greens have failed to reach the 4 per cent threshold to enter the parliament, meaning they will get zero MPs – despite one of their members, Alexander Van der Bellen, being elected president in a vote last year.

The last time the FPO entered government in the year 2000, other EU states briefly imposed diplomatic sanctions on Austria with the aim of forcing the extremists from government.

The sanctions were short-lived, however, after warnings that they could be counter-productive and stoke up nationalist sentiment in the country.

Incomplete results show the FPO slightly lagging its highest ever vote share of 26.9 per cent, obtained in 1999’s elections.

Sebastian Kurz, who is just 31 years old, declared victory on Sunday night and is likely to be the new Chancellor – the youngest national leader in the developed world.

Though Mr Kurz could join a coalition with the social democrats, who his party is currently cooperating with, this seems unlikely due to the acrimonious nature of the parties’ current relationship in power.

Final results are not expected until later in the week, though provisional results have been rolling in since polls closed on Sunday evening.

Both the OVP and FPO  have called for tightening Austria’s borders and quick deportations for rejected asylum seekers. 

At the start of this year the FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache claimed Austria was being “Islamified” and called for a ban on what he referred to as “fascistic Islam” – including Muslim symbols.

Echoing the far-right in Germany, the FPO has campaigned against the grand coalition government of the centre-right and centre-left, with posters bearing the slogan “the red-black coalition is the big problem” portraying it as a political stitch-up.

The FPO led in the polls for a period before the election campaign but fell to a close third place after Mr Kurz’s party tacked hard to the right to take some of its voters.