The European Elections Monitor

Open panel Open panel
The European Elections Monitor
Austria - General Elections

Historical victory for the popular party (Övp) and the collapse of the extreme rightwing (fpÖ) in Austria

Historical victory for the popular party (Övp) and the collapse of the extreme rightwing (fpÖ) in Austria

24/11/2002 - Results

On Sunday the Popular Party (ÖVP) clinched an historical victory in the general elections. The main party in the government coalition - in power since February 2000 - became the leading political movement in Austria with 42.37% of the vote, its best result since 1966. It is the first time that a party has improved its position to such a great degree amongst the electorate since the Second World War. The Popular Party is therefore far ahead of the Social Democrat Party (SPÖ) that won 36.90% of the vote but the ÖVP can be especially proud of having reduced Jörg Haider's party (the FPÖ) by one third of what it represented just two years ago. The populist movement has recorded a spectacular setback in the number of votes in its favour, another first in Austria's history, dropping from 27.22% in 1999 to 10.16% in 2002, losing nearly two thirds of its seats in the Nationalrat. The Greens have moved slightly forward in comparison with the 1999 elections, although with 8.96% of the vote the result was inferior to those forecast by the opinion polls (12%). None of the other five movements in the election, ie the Communist Party, the Liberal Forum, the Democrats, the Left Socialist Party and the Community of Christian Voters managed to reach the 4% threshold of votes cast, necessary to be represented in Parliament.

Many analysts think that this is a personal success for Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel who was for a long time a controversial political figure for having formed an alliance with the extreme rightwing. Today many consider this decision to have been a master stroke and commend the strategist in Wolfgang Schüssel who took the risk of allying himself with the FPÖ in order be able to nip the movement better in the bud. Although the decline of the populist movement is mainly due to its internal crises, its lack of competent executives and its notorious disorganisation, it remains that its failure is an advantage to the Popular Party.

The FPÖ did not therefore achieve its goal of 15% of the vote and will not have any influence on any possible coalition negotiations. A great part of its 1999 electorate seem to have chosen to vote for the Popular Party. It even regressed in Carinthia, the province where Jörg Haider is governor, winning 24% of the vote in comparison with 39% in the last general elections on 3rd October 1999, thereby becoming the third political movement locally. But although the populist leader has suffered a severe defeat we shall not talk too rashly about his death as a politician. On the one hand the FPÖ is far from being eliminated in terms of the constitution of the next government coalition. On the other hand, Jörg Haider may very well take back the leadership of his party in order to reconstruct it and turn it into a "tough" opposition party to the government. "Although Jörg Haider has endeavoured to destroy the FPÖ after having brought it to power in February 2000, he will be able to rebuild it more easily around himself" thinks Emmerich Talos, political analyst at the University of Vienna. Likewise the populist leader has not given up the idea of federating the European extreme rightwing, leading us to believe on several occasions that he might put forward candidates from several countries under the banner of New Europe, the name he had planned to give to his future movement.

In spite of an improvement of 3.5 points since the 1999 elections the Social Democrat Party has failed in its objective of winning 40% of the vote and becoming the leading political movement in Austria. When the results were announced revealing that his party would be joining the ranks of the opposition Alfred Gusenbauer, the SPÖ leader pointed out on Sunday evening "I have always said that second place for us would be synonymous to opposition". Nevertheless it is not certain that the majority of the SPÖ members would follow this since many Social Democrats would like to return to power and refuse a renewal of a government coalition in which the extreme right is represented.

Finally the Greens achieved their best score ever since their entry into Parliament in 1986, but did not succeed in becoming the third political force in the country. They did however manage to beat the Liberal Party in the province of Voralberg and in most of the country's other major towns.

Therefore Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel must now transform his electoral victory by creating a government coalition. There are three possibilities open to the Popular Party leader. He could effectively choose to continue with the outgoing coalition with the extreme rightwing, the FPÖ's weak score could make the populist movement a more attractive partner in his opinion rather than the social democrats. "If he had to continue the coalition with the FPÖ to become chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel might now be able to do it with a partner to whom he dictates his terms", stressed the political analyst Peter Ulram just before the election. For the time being the FPÖ has officially announced that it would refuse to participate in a government that included Karl Heinz Grasser, the Finance Minister who recently left the FPÖ to join the ranks of the Popular Party. The chancellor declared however to the magazine Kurier that he wanted to continue with his Finance Minister who is also one of the most popular personalities in his government: "The Chancellor and Finance Minister create a single unique team".

Wolfgang Schüssel may also decide to govern with the Social Democrat Party recreating the "great coalition" that ruled Austria over for the last thirty years. According to the opinion polls 33% of the Austrians would be in favour of this possibility. The SPÖ leader, Alfred Gusenbauer is a priori against this. The last possibility, that is unprecedented and highly unlikely, is that the Popular Party may form a coalition with the Greens. The latter have however said they would refuse any alliance with a movement that had governed with the extreme right.

"I want a stable, reliable partner" warned Wolfgang Schüssel The renewal of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition, that appeared to be the political analysts' most favoured option may not be the securest way to ensure stability in view of the past and recent crises.

General Election Results - 24th November

Participation : 80,48%

Source: Austrian Embassy - Paris
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
Other stages