Kurz’s choice in Austria

No surprises in yesterday’s Austrian election (see my preview here). On preliminary results, the centre-right People’s Party has scored a big victory, with 38.4% of the vote (up 6.9%) and 73 of the 183 seats in parliament (up 11). Its leader, former chancellor Sebastian Kurz, will now have a free choice of partners to form a new coalition.

Kurz can get a majority by joining up with either the centre-left Social Democrats (41 seats, down 11) or the far-right Freedom Party (32 seats, down 19). The only major unknown prior to the election was whether the Greens would join that list as well: they have, with 23 seats.

The only other party to win seats, and the only one without enough of them to make a majority if combined with the centre-right, is the liberal Neos, with 7.4% and 14 seats (up four). Jetzt (formerly the Peter Pilz List) has dropped below the 4% threshold to 1.9%, losing its eight seats. Best of the remainder was the Communist Party, with 0.7%.

It’s important to note that these are preliminary figures; postal votes are still to be counted, and there are a lot of them. But while in 2017 they were enough to change the order of second and third placegetters, there is nothing they can make such a difference to this time. Most probably the Greens will pick up a couple more seats at the expense of the Freedom Party.

Although the picture seems to have changed significantly in just two years, the left-right balance has barely shifted at all. Centre-right, far right and liberals have 63.0% of the vote between them, compared to 62.7% last time; centre-left, rival Greens and far left have gone from 35.9% in aggregate up to 36.4%. As seems to be the trend in Europe, the story is in the shift within the broad ideological blocs, not between them.

Since the chance of centre-left, far right and Greens all combining against him is vanishingly small, it’s now up to Kurz to decide which of the three he wants to align with. So far he is holding to his promise to consult with all of them, but there are persistent reports that a coalition with the Greens – and perhaps Neos as well – may be the outcome.

Stay tuned.

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