As expected in Austria

Apologies for not updating things sooner, but the Austrian election came out very much as anticipated in yesterday’s preview. Official results are here, and there’s a fairly cursory BBC report here.

The incumbent grand coalition has retained its overall majority, but without much to spare. On the preliminary figures (postals and absentees are still to come) it will have 99 seats against a combined 84 for the four opposition parties. The Social Democrats (27.1%) and People’s Party (23.8%) each lost a bit over 2% to fall to a new low, but they continue to command a bare majority of the vote between them.

The Freedom Party, representing the far right, gained another 3.9% of the vote and eight seats, although it remains in third place on 21.4%. The Greens also made gains, although less than expected, finishing with 11.5% and 22 seats, and two new parties entered parliament: Team Stronach with eleven seats and NEOS with nine. Both could broadly be described as liberal (NEOS includes the old Liberal Forum as a component), although Team Stronach is also strongly eurosceptic.

Apart from the incumbents, the only possible majority coalitions would be (a) a broad right grouping of the People’s Party, the Freedom Party and one of the two liberal parties, or (b) a broad centrist and centre-left alliance of the Social Democrats, the Greens and both liberal parties. Neither looks at all likely, but no doubt there will be plenty of horse trading before the government is reassembled.

The two ruling parties seem to be in a dance with death. They are now so weakened that they risk losing their joint majority, but that also means that they are losing other options as well. In particular, the possibility of a Social Democrat/Greens combination, which the People’s Party was strongly campaigning against, has receded even further.

People’s Party leader┬áMichael Spindelegger, according to the BBC, echoed my remarks of yesterday in saying “We can’t simply go on as before”, but in fact that seems by far the most likely outcome. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Austria remains a peaceful, stable and relatively prosperous place. But its party system has some serious problems.

 

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