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Austria gears up for general election

Major parties expected to win most seats, but may be forced to enter into historic three-party coalition.

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2013 08:10
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Election on Sunday may see a three-way coalition for the first time in Austrian history [AFP]

Austria is gearing up for a general election that will likely see the country's two-party centrist coalition hold on to power, opinion polls show.

Having been the ruling party for decades, the Social Democrats (SPOe) and the conservative People’s Party (OeVP) may struggle, however, to win a majority of votes from during Sunday’s election. If that happens, they will be forced to create, for the first time in Austrian history, a three-party coalition.

The latest polls put the SPOe on 27-28 percent and the OeVP on 22-25 percent, a far cry from scores well above 40 percent and touching 50 percent in decades gone by.

"This election will determine if the two parties currently in power will win a new mandate in the same coalition or if for the first time in Austrian history, a three-way coalition is necessary," said Marcelo Jenny, a political scientist at Vienna University. 

Partly responsible is a string of recent corruption scandals pushing voters into the arms of several other parties, notably the pro-environment Greens and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).

The result of the uncertainty is that several alternative party leaders have had their names propelled forward as potential candidates for partnership. 

Potential partners

At present, neither major party is willing to team up with the FPOe's new head Heinz-Christian Strache, 44, campaigning on a platform of "Love thy Neighbour" - specifically if they are Austrian - and predicted to win around 20 percent.

This election will determine if the two parties currently in power will win a new mandate in the same coalition or if for the first time in Austrian history, a three-way coalition is necessary

Marcelo Jenny, a political scientist at Vienna University

Also an unlikely partner is auto parts billionaire Frank Stronach, 81, who returned from Canada last year posing as a prodigal son seeking to rescue the country he left as a young man.

Following a series of campaign gaffes such as calling for the death penalty for contract killers and suggesting China might invade Austria, support for Stronach had faded and polls suggest he may win six or seven percent.

The Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZOe), founded by the late Joerg Haider after splitting from the FPOe in 2005, are also personae non gratae and may in any case not clear the four percent hurdle to stay in parliament.

This leaves the Greens, who, along with handing out organic condoms have continued to be unsullied by corruption scandals are projected to win around 14 to 15 percent.

Liberal debutants The New Austria party (NEOS), if they can win enough support to enter parliament, could be another potential partner.

The NEOS and the BZOe could be key because if they fail to win seats, this will boost the number of seats available to other parties - not least the SPOe and the OeVP.

Austria has remained largely unaffected by Europe's debt crisis that is hitting much of southern part of the region.

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Source:
AFP
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