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Far right eyes Austria poll gains
Ruling parties could face steep losses amid voter dissatisfaction, analysts say.
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2008 06:30 GMT

Austria's political landscape is predicted to shift towards the right [AFP]

Austrians are voting in national elections which are expected to result in gains for two far-right parties.

Polling stations opened at 7am [0500 GMT] on Sunday, in a vote which comes two months after the governing coalition between the People's Party and the Social Democrats fell apart amid diasagreements.

But although two parties appear set to secure the highest shares of the vote, neither is predicted to secure an absolute majority in the 183-seat parliament.

Experts have said that popular discontent with the People's Party (OeVP) and the Social Democrats (SPOe) may prompt voters to opt for the Freedom Party (FPOe) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZOe), two far-right parties.

"Definitely the parties in government - the Social Democrats and the Christian conservatives - will lose [votes]," Peter Filzmaier, an Austrian political commentator, said.

"The so-called Freedom Party, as well as the Alliance for the Future of Austria, will be a big winner," he said.

Voter discontent

About 6.3 million Austrians are eligible to vote in the election, with about 200,000 16- and 17-year-olds permitted to cast a ballot under a new law that dropped the minimum voting age.

Austria's leading parties


The Social Democrats (SPOe)

The SPOe, led by Werner Faymann, says it will reduce inflation and seek referendums on EU treaties

The People's Party (OeVP)

The OeVP has said it will lower taxes, fight crime and promote the integration of immigrants. Party leader Wilhelm Molterer is Austria's vice-chancellor and finance minister

Freedom Party of Austria (FPOe)

The Freedom Party has campaigned on an anti-immigration platform and says it will stop asylum seekers from entering Austria. Led by Heinz-Christian Strache

The Green Party

Led by Alexander van der Bellen, the Greens have promised to provide free nursery school membership and to improve Austria’s state-run health insurance system

Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZOe)

Led by Joerg Haider, who analysts say has become more moderate in recent years. His party has said it will aim to reduce taxes

Recent poll results suggest that the Freedom Party will be the third-strongest party in the election with about 18 per cent of the vote.

The Alliance for the Future of Austria, led by Jorge Haider, a former Freedom Party leader, could double its 4 per cent result in 2006 elections.

But analysts say that Austrians may vote for the far-right parties purely as a protest against the coalition government.
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"We don't have more right-oriented voters than in 2006 when they gained 15 percent together," he said.

"It is because of a negative mood of frustration, of political mistrust of the grand coalition."

Christoph Hofinger, co-director of the Vienna-based SORA Institute for Social Research and Analysis, said the right's combined results could come to about a quarter of all votes.

"Generally, we can say that the total ... share of votes for the right-wing parties is probably going to be as high as in the late 1990s," he said.

In 1999, the Freedom Party, took a 27 per cent of the vote while under the stewardship of Joerg Haider, prompting its inclusion in the government.

The European Union later imposed diplomatic sanctions against Austria, after Haider issued statements widely considered as anti-Semitic or sympathetic to Adolf Hitler's labour policies.

While Haider is said to have since moved to a more moderate position, the campaign of Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party has featured a strong anti-Islamic position.

Despite the predicted gains, analysts say it is not clear if the leading far-right parties will become partners in the next governing coalition.

Source:
Agencies
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