22/09/2008 - D-7
Over 6 million Austrians are being called to ballot on 28th September next to renew the 183 members of the Nationalrat, the lower chamber in Parliament. These general elections are taking place two years earlier than planned since the government coalition comprising the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the People's Party (ÖVP) collapsed on 7th July last after several months of tension and incessant quarrelling.
President of the Republic Heinz Fischer has asked for the next government to be formed quickly after the elections (the previous one took 99 days to be formed) and insisted on recalling Austria's support of the European Union. "Europe is not the others, we are Europe," he declared. The Vice-Chancellor and leader of the People's Party, Wilhelm Molterer (ÖVP) also lauded globalisation and "the unity of Europe," saying that Austria had benefited in two ways: "Many major issues such as energy and global warming can only be solved via Europe. The EU offers us many solutions and we absolutely have to make this clear to the Austrians."
Just a few days ago the Liberal Party (FPÖ) delivered a draft law to the Nationalrat so that any future modifications made to the European treaties that affect Austrian interests should be decided by referendum. This initiative is supported by the SPÖ and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and recalls what outgoing Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer (SPÖ) and Werner Faymann, SPÖ leader said in an open letter published on 26th June last in the daily Kronen Zeitung. This project will be submitted to a vote by MPs on 24th September.
The two far right parties who are opponents in the political arena (BZÖ and FPÖ) share the same hostility towards the EU. "Over the last few years we have lost many of our competences to Brussels. This has been the source of a negative reaction on the part of our citizens. For example, with the Lisbon Treaty, we have lost our power in terms of justice, asylum rights, etc." says BZÖ leader, Jörg Haider, adding, "we want a referendum because we think that the people must be consulted on fundamental changes that are brought about in our relations with Brussels and with other EU member states."
The three parties (SPÖ, FPÖ and BZÖ) which comprise 96 of the 183 seats in the Nationalrat are not due to achieve the vital 2/3 majority necessary for any modification to the Constitution. As she did previously Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik (ÖVP) has criticised the draft law severely.
On 26th August 800,000 people watched the televised debate between Werner Faymann (SPÖ) and Alexander van der Bellem, the Green leader. During the programme the latter excluded any participation by his party in a government coalition that included Jörg Haider's BZÖ. But he did not indicate with which of the two main parties (SPÖ and ÖVP) he would prefer to co-operate saying however that he wanted the ÖVP to adopt a more moderate approach to immigration and that he did not appreciate the SPÖ's new attitude to Europe. The Greens have set themselves the goal of winning 15% of the vote on 28th September.
On 2nd September Wilhelm Molterer (ÖVP) and Heinz-Christian Strache, FPÖ leader then faced each other on TV. The far right leader criticised the Vice-Chancellor's social policy and said that the use of immigration made necessary by the drop in the birth rate was merely a consequence of this policy. Wilhelm Molterer insisted on the fact that legally resident foreigners were welcome in Austria.
According to political analysts the short campaign means that the TV debates between the various candidates will influence the election greatly which was not the case in the previous legislative vote.
A debate is upsetting the political class as the election draws near: the future of the national Austrian Airlines. The leader of Citizens for Austria, Fritz Dinkhauser has made the issue his own and is qualifying the privatisation of Austrian Airlines as "a crime against the Austrian people." The populist leader maintains that the country will lose its independence and will become a subsidiary of Germany if it relinquishes its airline.
The most recent poll by The Marketing and Communication Company, published on 10th September last credits the SPÖ with 30% of the vote, against 27% for the ÖVP. The two major parties are followed by Citizens for Austria (19%), the FPÖ (18%), the Greens (11%) and the BZÖ (6%). The Liberal Forum (LIF) is not due to rise above the obligatory 4% threshold to be represented in the Nationalrat.
Werner Faymann (SPÖ) is also the favourite rather than Wilhelm Molterer (ÖVP) to take the position of Chancellor. According to the poll by OGM for the magazine Profil 24% of Austrians hope to see a government coalition led by the SPÖ leader in comparison with 17% for Wilhelm Molterer. Gallup confirms this result saying that a poll undertaken for Österreich, 45% of those interviewed would like Werner Faymman to lead the next government in comparison with 28% for Wilhelm Molterer.
The Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) is still recovering from two setbacks suffered during the regional elections that have taken place since its return to power on a federal level. Indeed on 9th March last it won 25.6% of the vote in the Land of Lower-Austria ie its weakest result in the regional elections. For the first time the SPÖ fell below the 30% mark. Three months later on 8th June it declined by 10.44 points winning only 15.46% of the vote beaten by the Citizens Forum of Tyrol led by Fritz Dinkhauser, which greatly benefited from the loss of credibility on the part of the two major parties; it won 18.35% of the vote.
Just one week before the election a major share of the electorate (1/3) say they are undecided. Given the number of parties running in the election (10 – a record in Austrian history) and the result of the last elections on 1st October 2006, which saw the SPÖ's victory over the ÖVP, to everyone's surprise – since it had been declared the favourite – the result of the election on 28th September is still a great unknown.